Brown v. Board of Education

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In 1954, in a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state laws segregating public schools for African-American and white children were unconstitutional. The case, known as Brown v. Board of Education overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling, which was handed down 58 years earlier.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling was a landmark case that cemented the inspiration for the Civil Rights Movement

The case was fought through the legal arm of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) which had been fighting civil rights battles since the 1930s.


The Civil Rights Act of 1866 is established to protect the civil rights of African-Americans. The act guaranteed the right to sue, own property, and contract for work.


The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified. The amendment grants the privilege of citizenship to African-Americans. It also guarantees that a person cannot be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. It also makes it illegal to deny a person equal protection under the law.


The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in an 8 to 1 vote that the “separate but equal” argument presented in the Plessy v. Ferguson case. The Supreme Court rules that if “separate but equal” facilities were available for both African-American and white travelers there was no violation of the 14th Amendment.

Justice Henry Billings Brown wrote the majority opinion, arguing

"The object of the [Fourteenth] amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to endorse social, as distinguished from political, equality[...] If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane."

The sole dissenter, Justice John Marshal Harlan, interpreted the 14th Amendment in another way contending that “our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”

Harlan’s dissenting argument would support later arguments that segregation was unconstitutional.

 This case becomes the basis for legal segregation in the United States.


The NAACP is established by W.E.B. Du Bois and other civil rights activists. The purpose of the organization is to fight racial injustice through legal means. The organization lobbied to legislative bodies to create anti-lynching laws and eradicate injustice in its first 20 years. However, in the 1930s, the NAACP established a Legal Defense and Education Fund to fight legal battles in court. Headed by Charles Hamilton Houston, the fund created a strategy of dismantling segregation in education. 


 Thurgood Marshall’s strategy of fighting segregation is endorsed by the NAACP Board of Directors. Marshall’s strategy included tackling segregation in education.


Several school segregation cases, which had been filed in states such as Delaware, Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington DC, are combined under Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. By combining these cases under one umbrella shows the national significance.


The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rules to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson. The ruling argued that the racial segregation of public schools is a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.


Several states refused to implement the decision. Many even consider it,

“[N]ull, void, and no effect” and begin establishing laws arguing against the rule. As a result, the U.S. Supreme Court issues a second ruling, also known as Brown II. This ruling mandates that desegregation must occur “with all deliberate speed.”


Arkansas’ governor, as well as lawmakers, refuse to desegregate schools. In the case, Cooper v. Aaron the U.S. Supreme Court remains steadfast by arguing that states must obey its rulings as it is an interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. 

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Lewis, Femi. "Brown v. Board of Education." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Lewis, Femi. (2023, April 5). Brown v. Board of Education. Retrieved from Lewis, Femi. "Brown v. Board of Education." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).