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Simple Justice is a Book by Richard Kluger

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    A film that was created back in 1993. The two pieces of work are very similar, but the focus of this analytical essay is the media form. Simple Justice is about a famous lawyer named Thurgood Marshall, whose main fight included integration and equality for schooling across America and around the 1930s-1950s. Marshall wins Supreme Court cases involving integration at colleges –Murray V. Pearson– and integration at elementary and high schools –Brown V. Board of Education. Therefore, the director’s, Helaine Head, main objective within the film is to show Thurgood’s good, long fight for desegregation and with giving main highlights to the schools with segregation, his court cases to destroy segregation, and the studies of psychological effects of segregation. During the time after Plessy V. Ferguson (1896), which deemed that separate was equal, schools –mostly in the south and west– were allowed to segregate African Americans from Whites (Cornell Law School, n.d.). This caused a huge separation, and –even though the law stated equal facilities– an unequal advantage between the two.

    The film presents Thurgood and his mentor, Charles, both watching a recording of two schools in South Carolina. The first school the tape shows is Chester South Carolina –a predominantly African American school. This school contained a ratio of sixty-eight students to one teacher within a room. The school provided very few books, if any, to let the children share and did not have desks or other classroom equipment. On the other hand, the predominantly white school –which is a mile away– contained a ratio of about half the Chester South Carolina school. Within one classroom, thirty students were taught by one teacher with a proper amount of books and equipment. Not only did the equipment and ratio of the classrooms present this idea of inequality, but also the amount of funding these schools received. South Carolina funded the white school with 332,000 dollars; whereas the Chester school received 628 dollars worth of funds. Due to this inequality, Thurgood and his team felt a sense of urgency to eliminate the idea of separate and equal because equal in this time was not actually equal. Now the segregation within schools was not only within primary and secondary education schools (high school and lower), but also the postsecondary schools (colleges).

    Thurgood and Charles both knew that going after the inequality in lower-level schools right away would be near impossible to beat. So instead, they decided to go after inequality within graduate school. This led the way to one of the first supreme court cases that Thurgood fought for civil rights. This case was Murray V. Pearson (1935), and it involved the need for integration at the University of Maryland Law School (UMD) for African Americans. Dr. Pearson –the president at the UMD-Law School– suggested that Murray attend Princess Anne Academy for Negroes instead of his institution. The problem with this, however, is that the academy did not offer law school, which showed the court that there was not equal institutions for both races. Marshall told the Supreme Court that ‘What’s at stake here is more than the rights of my client. It’s the moral commitment stated in our country’s creed” (Marshall, 1935). He is saying that this equality for all was promised by the fourteenth amendment, and if Murray –and the rest of the African American race– does not receive equality, then the Supreme Court is breaking their commitment to the people.

    The Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to not provide equal postsecondary institutions in Maryland, so Dr. Pearson had to integrate Murray and others to UMD-Law School. After the success of Murray V. Pearson and other graduate school cases, Thurgood went on to defend Brown V. Board of Education at the Supreme Court level within the film. Brown V. Board of Education included three lower court cases in South Carolina, Kansas, and Virginia. All three of the state courts referred back to the decision of the Supreme Court only integrating in the graduate schools and not lower education schools. This made Thurgood believe if the Supreme Court overruled Plessy V. Ferguson, all the schools in America would have to integrate. So Thurgood appeal up to the Supreme Court, which started in 1952. It wasn’t until 1954 that a decision was finally reached that stated separate was not equal. The key piece of evidence that showed separate was not equal was social science studies by psychologists. Kenneth Clark is credited for his studies in the psychological effect of children due to segregation.

    Kenneth Clark is shown within the film using a doll experiment with African American children. Clark asks the kids to pick which doll –out of two white and two black– is the best and worst. These children, more often than not, chose the white doll to be the best and the black doll to be the worst. In the film, it even shows one African American child struggling to pick which doll looks like him. The child ends up picking the white doll because he didn’t want to associate himself as the “bad doll” (black doll) he chose earlier. This showed that children believed that African Americans were inherently inferior to Whites. Clark goes on to say that due to this mindset, it would negatively affect children psychologically and follow them as they aged. This demanded that segregation should be eliminated at not only the graduate level but at all public schools to avoid psychological damage in children.

    Now during the whole film, it looks like Marshall fought for desegregation against a completely unwilling society. It showed all these lower courts denying this idea of integration for schools, so he had to take these cases to the Supreme Court. However, years prior to Brown V. Board, Marshall participated in a case called Mendez V. Westminster (1947). This case dealt with school segregation of hispanics and whites within California. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that school segregation was unconstitutional. This shows that, even though the film did not portray it, some areas were willing to integrate their schools without going to the Supreme Court. Another problem is at the end of the film. It mentions that school desegregation happened within about ten years. However, segregation is still affecting America today, sadly. Two high schools in North Carolina are highly segregated. West Charlotte High is ninety-nine percent minorities; whereas Ardrey Kell High School is nearly eighty percent white.

    These two schools are only a few miles apart and show huge separation between races. Therefore, while the film portrays that segregation ending, America is still struggling with segregation issues. Even though there are struggles with segregation today, Thurgood Marshall still paved the way towards integration in most public schools today, and Simple Justice best portrays Marshall’s journey and process to get there. This, thanks to director Helaine Head, helps people understand the history of desegregation because it gives specific events within Marshall’s journey of ridding the clause separate but equal. This journey is the director’s main goal within Simple Justice due to her calling attention to segregation within schools, Marshall’s court cases dealing with segregation, and the social science behind segregation.

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