The landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education is often cited as the end of segregation in America’s public schools. But did it really achieve that goal?
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The Plessy v. Ferguson Decision
In 1892, the U.S. Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson legitimized state-sponsored segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine. This doctrine allowed for ” separate but equal ” public facilities for blacks and whites, as long as the facilities were equal in quality. The Plessy decision was overturned in 1954 by the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that ” separate but equal ” public education was unconstitutional.
The “separate but equal” doctrine
The “separate but equal” doctrine was first articulated in the Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. The case arose out of a Louisiana law that required separate but equal accommodations for white and black railroad passengers. Homer Plessy, who was seven-eighths Caucasian and one-eighth African American, took a seat in a “whites only” car of a Louisiana train. After being asked to move to the “coloreds only” car, Plessy refused and was arrested.
In its 1896 decision, the Supreme Court held that the Louisiana law did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause because it did not seek to establish racial inferiority. The Court reasoned that as long as the separate accommodations were equal, there was no discrimination. This “separate but equal” doctrine would remain the law of the land for nearly 60 years, until it was finally overturned by the Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
The impact of the Plessy decision
The Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 established the “separate but equal” doctrine that racially segregated facilities were constitutional as long as they were equal in quality. This Supreme Court decision effectively overturned the Reconstruction-era civil rights laws that had been designed to protect the rights of African Americans. The Plessy decision led to increased segregation andJim Crow laws throughout the United States.
The Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954 overturned the Plessy decision and struck down segregation in public schools. However, segregation still exists in many forms today, such as housing or economic segregation.
The Brown v. Board of Education Decision
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its unanimous ruling in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The court’s decision declared that “separate but equal” education for black and white students was unconstitutional and demanded that states begin the process of integration “with all deliberate speed.”
The “equal protection” clause
The “equal protection” clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits states from denying to any person within their jurisdiction “the equal protection of the laws.” In other words, this clause requires states to provide everyone with equal treatment under the law.
The Supreme Court first interpreted the “equal protection” clause in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson,163 U.S. 537 (1896). In Plessy, the Court held that a state could constitutionally establish separate public facilities for blacks and whites, as long as those facilities were equal in quality. The Court reasoned that “separate but equal” treatment of races did not violate the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection because all persons were being treated equally under the law.
This “separate but equal” standard remained in effect until 1954, when the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education,347 U.S. 483 (1954). In Brown, the Court held that segregation in public schools violated the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection because it deprived black children of educational opportunities that were available to white children. The Court reasoned that separate but equal schools were not really equal because segregation itself was inherently unequal.
After Brown, many states resisted complying with its mandate to integrate their public schools. Some states tried to get around Brown bysegregating public facilities other than schools, such as buses, restaurants, and bathrooms. In response, the Supreme Court issued a series of decisions invalidating these Jim Crow laws as well. Finally, in 1968, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which outlawed discrimination in all public accommodations regardless of whether they were related to education.
Today, racial segregation is no longer legally mandated in the United States, but it still exists in many forms throughout society.
The impact of the Brown decision
The impact of the Brown decision was immediate and far-reaching. In the years following the decision, school districts across the country began to desegregate their schools. In some cases, this process was voluntary. In other cases, it was the result of federal intervention.
In the South, where segregation was most entrenched, resistance to desegregation was widespread. In many cases, southern states used a variety of strategies to delay or prevent desegregation. Some states passed laws designed to make desegregation more difficult. Others closed public schools rather than integrate them.
Despite these obstacles, the Brown decision ultimately led to a significant decrease in segregation in schools across the United States. Today, nearly 60 years after the decision was handed down, our schools are more diverse than ever before.
The Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education
When the Supreme Court made the decision in Brown v. Board of Education, they changed the course of American history. This case is one of the most important cases in the Supreme Court, and it ended segregation in public schools. This case is also important because it showed that the Supreme Court is willing to protect the rights of minorities.
The impact of desegregation
The decision in Brown v. Board of Education ended legal segregation in America’s public schools, but the symbolic power of the ruling was slow to translate into actual desegregation. In the years after the decision, states and localities across the South used a variety of methods to resist efforts to integrate their schools, including closing public schools altogether, or “white flight,” in which white families withdraw their children from integrated public schools and send them to private or predominantly white institutions.
It wasn’t until the late 1960s and early 1970s that a series of federal court rulings and actions by the Nixon administration finally began to desegregate America’s public schools. Even today, however, many American schools remain largely segregated by race and economic status.
The continued existence of segregation
The landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education brought an end to legal segregation in America’s public schools. But despite this progress, segregation in education persists. In many schools across the country, students of color attend “majority-minority” schools, where they make up more than 50% of the student body. And in some cases, schools are as segregated today as they were before Brown v. Board of Education.
There are a number of factors that contribute to the continued existence of segregation in education. One is residential segregation, which leads to segregated schools because most public school students attend schools near their homes. Another factor is the unequal distribution of resources among different school districts. For example, poor and minority students are more likely to attend underfunded schools with inadequate facilities and less experienced teachers.
Despite the challenges, there have been some recent efforts to address segregation in education. In 2016, for example, the U.S. Department of Education released new guidance urging school districts to take voluntary steps to reduce segregation. And in 2017, a federal court ruled that a Virginia school district must take action to desegregate its middle and high schools.
It is clear that much work still needs to be done to achieve true racial integration in America’s public schools. But Brown v. Board of Education remains an important reminder of the progress that can be made when we come together to fight for justice.