In early America, schools were segregated between black and white children. A landmark US Supreme Court case known as Brown V. Board of Education changed that when the court ruled that segregation of schools was wrong, and made the students "unequal." The case paved the way for the civil rights movement and encouraged schools, public facilities, and transportation to begin integrating. During the time of the trial, which was in the 1950s, African Americans had less civil rights than white people. Water fountains were separate, and black people were forced to sit at the back of buses. They were not given equal opportunity to learn, shop, and worship as others were. In 1896, a similar trial known as Plessy V. Ferguson stated that separating schools between blacks and whites provided each party with equal education. This came about when a man named Homer Plessy refused to sit in the segregated car on a railroad train in Louisiana. The Jim Crow Laws during that time period stated that blacks would not be afforded the same rights as whites.
The trial came about when an African American student named Linda Brown had to walk several blocks to the bus stop, and then ride over a mile to school every day, when a white school near her home was only a few blocks away. She was in the third grade and her father, Oliver Brown, was upset that she could not attend the same school as her playmates in the neighborhood, many of whom were white. Her father was a welder, an assistant pastor and a man of the community, and he spoke to several people about potentially making the issue a court decision. He wanted his daughter to have her education closer to home, and to be included in the same classes and activities that were taking place for her white friends.
Brown approached the NAACP who agreed to assist him with the case. They gathered several plaintiffs but agreed that his name should be at the head of the roster, which is where the case got its name. An African American judge by the name of Thurgood Marshall played a significant role in the case. He stated that school segregation was a violation of a student's 14th Amendment rights, afforded to them by the US Constitution. His tireless fight to assist not only the Brown family but all children of color made a definitive impact in the outcome of the case. Eventually, the three-judge panel agreed that separating children in schools was unconstitutional, and immoral. But this decision took some time, and did not come easy.
The trial actually involved more than just the Brown family. In fact, it involved five different cases from four different states. Even after the decision came down, several states refused to follow it including Virginia and Arkansas. A man by the name of George Wallace blocked black students from the door in the state of Alabama in 1963, until he was forced to move and let them in. While the case was difficult and took a long time to prove in terms of rights violations, the results were well worth it for children of color. Outcry from many in the white community contributed to the delay, as well as individual states who argued that it was a state's individual choice whether or not to integrate their schools. Some people were outraged over the decision and there was violence in certain areas of the United States.
The final decision of Brown V. Board of Education had a huge impact on people of color. It finally allowed children of all ages to attend the same schools as other children, and this allowed them to have the same quality education. The basic principal of the trial was that separate does not mean equal. It opened up a new opportunity for black adults as well. It also encouraged people of all color to learn how to live, work, and learn together. Because of this landmark court case, people today can function in American society with the same rights and opportunities, no matter what their color or background.
For additional resources on Brown V. Board of Education, refer to the following links:
- National Historic Site – Home page of the museum located in Kansas
- Documents – National Archives website and documents relating to the case
- Background Summary – More information about the case
- Library of Congress – Photos, background, and history of the landmark case
- History – A detailed history of Brown V. Board of Education