Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

The Equal Protection Clause reinterpreted.

The NAACP led the effort to desegregate schools through the court system. In fact, the NAACP had filed cases in several states and against the segregated schools of the District of Columbia. The Supreme Court took five of these cases at once, and they were styled “Brown v. Board of Education.”

Chief Justice Earl Warren and all eight associate justices agreed, and ruled 9:0 for Brown and in favor of striking down segregation to satisfy the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Brown’s unanimous ruling came in part as a result of former politician Earl Warren, now chief justice, pacing the halls and shaping his majority opinion as he tried to bring the questionable or reluctant justices over to the majority.

In the instant cases, that question is directly presented. Here, unlike Sweatt v. Painter, there are findings below that the Negro and white schools involved have been equalized, or are being equalized, with respect to buildings, curricula, qualifications and salaries of teachers, and other “tangible” factors. Our decision, therefore, cannot turn on merely a comparison of these tangible factors in the Negro and white schools involved in each of the cases. We must look instead to the effect of segregation itself on public education. In approaching this problem, we cannot turn the clock back to 1868, when the Amendment was adopted, or even to 1896, when Plessy v. Ferguson was written. We must consider public education in the light of its full development and its present place in American life throughout the Nation. Only in this way can it be determined if segregation in public schools deprives these plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws . . . We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. This disposition makes unnecessary any discussion whether such segregation also violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
Analyze and Interpret:

1. What legal strategy did the NAACP take in their pursuit to desegregate schools?

2. Explain Justice Warren’s reasoning found in his majority opinion.

3. How did the Court generally rule on integration questions after Brown v. Board?


Photo/Image: NAACP lawyers Chambers, Marshall, and Nabrit. New York Wolrd Telegraph and Sun.