In 1951, Linda Brown was a third grader who hated having to walk a mile to school every day, especially when just a few blocks from her Topeka, Kansas, home was a perfectly good school she could attend--if she had been white.
Like seventeen states (and Washington, D.C.), Topeka's schools were ruled by Jim Crow. Linda had no choice until her father decided to do something about it. Oliver Brown approached the local branch of the NAACP and told them his daughter had been refused admission at an all-white school. The organization had been searching for a test case to challenge the "separate but equal" laws that had been affirmed in 1896 by the US Supreme Court's Plessy v. Ferguson decision. Quickly, a suit was filed on behalf of Linda and eleven other families (since her name was the first in the alphabetical order of plaintiffs, Brown was the name given to the suit). Nearly a hundred years after Bleeding Kansas helped spark the Civil War, the state would be at the epicenter of another pitched battle for basic civil rights.
The Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education on May 17, 1954 was a landmark victory for equal rights in America. That it was delivered unanimously gave needed weight to its declaration that "separate but equal" was inherently unequal. As vital as the ruling was, however, the fight to end segregation in the nation's schools only began with Brown, it didn't end with it--not by a long shot. In fact, when the Court decreed in a subsequent ruling that integration should proceed "with all deliberate speed," it provided the opening that many officials who sought to tie up integration needed. Employing an assortment of tactics, ranging from legislation to physical intimidation to murder, they managed to delay integration until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 finally gave some teeth to the Brown decision.
The articles that follow pick up the story as it was told in The Nation on the eve of the Court's historic ruling and continue until just prior to events in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957, when federal troops had to guarantee the safety of nine students who had attempted to enroll in the city's Central High School. How did the optimism that greeted the Court's decision deteriorate so rapidly into open confrontation? Who were the people on both sides of the issue? What did they have to say? Who defied the law.Who stood up for principle and gave strength to whole communities to do the right thing? The following pages will help you answer these and other important questions as they take you back to one of the most momentous times in US history.
In This Pack
Segregation and the Law
Thomas I. Emerson | On the eve of Supreme Court hearings into the continuing justification of segregation, Emerson, a law professor at Yale University, examines the legal and constitutional history of equal protection in the US (March 25, 1950).
The Climax of an Era
Carey McWilliams | An editorial hails the Supreme Court's unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education but predicts a rough road ahead for enforcement of the ruling (May 29, 1954).
Nine Men Speak to You: Jim Crow in the North
Fredric Wertham | A psychiatrist writes how for the first time psychological evidence was used in court (and effectively so) to demonstrate the emotional toll that segregation takes on both white and black children (June 12, 1954).
Desegregation at Work: Progress and Problems
Henry Lee Moon | A state-by-state look at offical responses to the Court's ruling on some of it surprisingly positive (December 18, 1954).
An editorial says that Sen. James Eastlandis speech in Jackson, Mississippi, is nothing less than an attempt to lead an insurrection against the federal government (December 17, 1955).
No Dissent in Dixie
Harry L. Golden | The story of Dr. Chester C. Travelstead, a dean at the University of South Carolina, who was fired from his job for expressing support for integration (December 17, 1955).
Score on Integration in Public Schools
Henry Lee Moon | Another state-by-state assessment of the status of integration in the South; this time marking a year and a half since the Supreme Courtis historic decision (December 17, 1955).
The Heart of the Matter
Carey McWilliams | An editorial decries the "Dixiecrat Manifesto," an effort by a large group of Southern senators and congressmen to derail integration (March 31, 1956).
Subversion in the South
An editorial presciently suggests that it may be necessary to call in troops to quell antiintegration violence (September 15, 1956).