Learning Pack Preview: The ‘Brown’ Decision
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
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).