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Brown V. Board of Education (1954)

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    The landmark unanimous ruling in Brown v. Board of Education overturned the “separate but equal” precedent established in Plessy v. Ferguson. With a ruling of 8-1, the Plessy v. Ferguson Court purported that as long as the facilities that the two races occupied were equal in quality and accommodations, then it was constitutionally permissible for the facilities to be separate.

    The majority stated that: “The object of the [Fourteenth] amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things, it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either. ” – Plessy v. Ferguson 163 U. S. 537 (1896) In other words, the Court upheld the statute that allowed racially segregated but equal railroad carriages because the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth amendment to the U.

    S. Constitution was addressing political not social equality. The Court cannot enact a law that coerces one race of people to commingle with another race of people and “the attempt to do so can only result in accentuating the difficulties of the present situation. ” The second reasoning the majority gave to substantiate the Court’s ruling addressed the assumption that the Louisiana statute making segregation of the railroad facilities legal implied inferiority among the races.

    However, the Court argued, “if this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it. ” This is where the root of Harlan’s dissent lies. Harlan proclaimed that our U. S. Constitution is color-blind and “if a white man and a black man choose to occupy the same public conveyance on a public highway, it is their right to do so; and no government, proceeding alone on grounds of race, can prevent it without infringing the personal liberty of each. Plessy v. Ferguson marshaled an era of increased discrimination towards blacks. Upholding the “separate but equal” doctrine provided justification for segregation in not only railroad carriages, but in public facilities across the country, including schools. This precedent stood almost unchallenged for nearly fifty years, until a series of decisions were brought forth that questioned the constitutionality of segregation in regards to education. There were a few cases (i. e. , Sweatt v. Painter, McLaurin v.

    Oklahoma State Regents) brought forth in order to tear away at the precedent, but the Courts upheld the constitutionality of the precedent and concluded that the lack of educational opportunities allotted to blacks was unconstitutional. Even though these cases did not result in abolishing the “separate but equal” precedent, they did pave the way for the latter Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The issue brought before the Court of Brown v. Board of Education was whether racial segregation of children in public schools deprives minority children of equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment.

    An unanimous decision declaring the “separate but equal” precedent unconstitutional in the realm of public education was reached with the help of Chief Justice Warren’s persuasion. The rationale used by the Brown v. Board of Education Court to overrule the Plessy precedent was that the notion of inferiority was inherent in the precedent, not a construction created by the minority children, and that the dehumanizing effects of segregation violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth amendment.

    In the Court’s opinion, Warren first established the inherent inferiority that the precedent implies and its dehumanizing effects on the minority psyche. He states: “Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn.

    Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of Negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system. ” – Brown v. Board of Education 347 U. S. 483 (1954) Warren stressed the importance of education in American society and depriving one race of higher learning infringes on their rights guaranteed to them by the Fourteenth amendment of the U. S. Constitution. Thus, the Court also provided a different interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment than the one used in Plessy v.

    Ferguson: “We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. ” – Brown v. Board of Education 347 U. S. 483 (1954) I feel the argument the Court used to reach its decision was stronger then the arguments put forth by the Court in Plessy v. Ferguson.

    The Court in Brown v. Board of Education thoroughly analyzed the meaning of “separate but equal,” whereas the Court of Plessy v. Ferguson only touched the surface of the matter. None of the public facilities was truly equal in any sense of the word, but the precedent was upheld because the facilities appeared equal on the surface. The Plessy Court only focused on the tangible factors to determine equality in the facilities. For example, the Plessy Court would deem the educational facilities that the white and black children attended separately to be equal, if both schools had the necessities needed to function.

    However, the Brown Court would also take into consideration the intangible factors, such as whether the materials used by the black schools were dated or if the teachers had the proper credentials. Thus, when children are situated in these two vastly different environments where it is apparent that one environment is better than the other, it is almost expected the one group of children will feel stigmatized by this separation of schooling. This is the argument I believe the Brown Court articulated skillfully and the reason why I am in agreement with the Court’s rationale for overturning the Plessy v.

    Ferguson ruling. Brown v. Board of Education is a highly influential case to this very day. The ruling handed down by the Court was important for two key reasons: (1) it tried to effect social change by desegregating public schools and getting the nation closer to its goal of seeing equality realized and (2) it changed precedent, which is not an easy task to accomplish. The Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision did not require desegregation of public schools by a specific time or even address segregation in other public areas, such as restaurants and restrooms.

    However, it did declare that segregation was unconstitutional and that was a giant step towards complete desegregation of public schools. Secondly, established precedent is difficult to overturn and there were other cases before Brown v. Board of Education that tried to abolish segregation and overturn the precedent established in Plessy. Brown v. Board of Education importance transcends time. Our national history would be drastically different if the ruling would have been decided differently. Even after segregation was deemed unconstitutional by the Brown ruling, change in the public school system was not immediate.

    It took many years for even partial segregation to be reflected in the schools. Race relations has always been a highly debatable area of concern and the environment during that time was a volatile one in which there were riots and assassinations of Civil Right’s leaders. I can only imagine how much more violence and friction between the races there would have been if the Brown decision upheld the ruling of the Plessy v. Ferguson court. Additionally, the morale of the minorities would be negatively affected in serious ways.

    Because they would be attending schools that would leave them ill prepared to advance to other institutions of higher education, their ability to accomplish certain goals would be hampered, thus, setting them up as inferior, whether it be intentional or unintentional. Additionally, segregation would not only be seen in the school systems, but in all public facilities. This would in turn transform minorities into nothing more than second-class U. S. citizens, since the violation of some of their rights would be permissible by law.

    Minorities would carry the stigma of being inferior and that would affect them in not only their dealings with people in their social lives, but they would be affected professionally as well. Earning a promotion in their occupations could prove to be difficult if they are seen as people who would not be able to perform at the same level as their white counterparts. The negative effects of segregation remaining legally permissible would be innumerable. As mentioned earlier the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education did not result in immediate change and it did not address segregation on a large scale.

    It did move America toward the ideals of equality and justice in the public arena, but the Courts were unable to change the attitudes of Americans in respect to race relations. Law is a powerful tool and can accomplish many things, but no amount of legislation can change people’s inner views and opinions they have about another group of people. This is what prevents this case’s promise from being fully realized today. Unfortunately, America is a race-conscious society where people have natural tendencies to base decisions off preconceived notions and to discriminate.

    Therefore, practices such as affirmative action and the creation of race-based scholarships have been created in order to combat people’s preconceived notions and stereotypes they hold about others. In order to see the concept of equality realized in our society, race cannot be the basis of any system in America. The key to affect this magnitude of change is a change of mindset. Even though Brown v. Board of Education did not achieve this change of mindset, it brought our nation a step closer to see this change realized one day.

    Brown V. Board of Education (1954). (2017, Jan 04). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/brown-v-board-of-education-1954/

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