How Brown v. Board of Education Changed Public Education for the Better

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One of the most historical court cases, especially in terms of education, was Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). This case took on segregation within school systems or the separation of white and black students within public schools. Up until this case, many states had laws establishing separate schools for white students and another for black students. This landmark case made those laws unconstitutional.

The decision was handed down on May 17, 1954. It overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896, which had allowed states legalize segregation within schools. The chief justice in the case was Justice Earl Warren. His court’s decision was a unanimous 9-0 decision that said, “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." The ruling essentially led the way for the civil rights movement and essentially integration across the United States.


A class action suit was filed against the Board of Education of the city of Topeka, Kansas in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas in 1951. The plaintiffs consisted of thirteen parents of twenty children who attended the Topeka School District. They filed the suit hoping that the school district would change its policy of racial segregation.

Each of the plaintiffs was recruited by the Topeka NAACP, led by McKinley Burnett, Charles Scott, and Lucinda Scott.

Oliver L. Brown was the named plaintiff in the case. He was an African American welder, father, and assistant pastor at a local church. His team chose to use his name as part of a legal tactic to have a man’s name on the front of the suit. He was also a strategic choice because he, unlike some of the other parents, was not a single parent and, the thinking went, would appeal more strongly to a jury.


In the fall of 1951, 21 parents attempted to enroll their children in the closest school to their homes, but each was denied enrollment and told that they must enroll in the segregated school. This prompted the class action suit to be filed. At the district level, the court ruled in favor of the Topeka Board of Education saying that both schools were equal in regards to transportation, buildings, curriculum, and highly qualified teachers. The case then went on to the Supreme Court and was combined with four other similar suits from across the country.


Brown v. Board entitled students to receive a quality education regardless of their racial status. It also allowed for African American teachers to teach in any public school they chose, a privilege that was not granted before the Supreme Court ruling in 1954. The ruling set the foundation for the civil rights movement and gave African American’s hope that “separate, but equal” on all fronts would be changed. Unfortunately, however, desegregation was not that easy and is a project that has not been finished, even today. 

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Meador, Derrick. "How Brown v. Board of Education Changed Public Education for the Better." ThoughtCo, Nov. 18, 2016, Meador, Derrick. (2016, November 18). How Brown v. Board of Education Changed Public Education for the Better. Retrieved from Meador, Derrick. "How Brown v. Board of Education Changed Public Education for the Better." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 18, 2018).