How Did the Brown v Board of Education Start?

The Brown v Board of Education case began with a simple question: does segregation in public schools violate the Constitution? This question would eventually lead to one of the most important Supreme Court decisions in American history.

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In 1894, the United States Supreme Courtrules inPlessy v. Fergusonthat racial segregation is legal under the doctrine of”separate but equal.” This ruling leads to increased discriminatory practices against African Americans, such as the establishment of “Jim Crow” laws, which mandate strict segregation of blacks and whites in public places.

The case ofBrown v. Board of Educationof Topeka, Kansas originates in 1951, when a young girl named Linda Brown has to walk more than a mile across town to attend an all-black school, even though there is a white school only seven blocks from her home. Brown’s father contacts the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to seek help in challenging the Topeka school board’s policy.

The NAACP agrees to take on the case and assembles a team of civil rights lawyers, including future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. The team argues that segregated schools are inherently unequal and violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. In May 1954, the Supreme Courtissues its ruling inBrown v. Board of Educationof Topeka, unanimously declaring that “separate but equal” public schooling is unconstitutional.

Segregation in America before Brown v. Board of Education

Segregation was a fact of life in the American South for generations before the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. Jim Crow laws mandating racial segregation were enacted at the state and local level in the late 19th century, and segregation of public facilities became increasingly common in the early 20th century. The Brown decision was a response to the segregation of public schools in Topeka, Kansas.

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“Separate but equal”

The “separate but equal” doctrine was a legal principle in United States Constitutional law according to which racial segregation did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guaranteed “equal protection under the law”. The doctrine was formally first adopted by the United States Supreme Court in the case Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, and reaffirmed in the cases of Gong Lum v. Rice in 1927 and Briggs v. Elliott in 1952. It was explicitly repudiated by this Court in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education.

Plessy v. Ferguson

On May 18, 1896, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, a case that confirmed the legality of racial segregation under the doctrine of “separate but equal.” The decision had far-reaching consequences for American society, allowing segregation to become firmly entrenched in many areas of life, including education, public transportation, and even inside people’s homes.

The case began in 1892 when Homer Plessy, a black man, took a seat in the “ whites-only ” section of a Louisiana train car. When Plessy refused to move to the “ colored only” section, he was arrested and charged with violating an Louisiana law that required separate accommodations for whites and blacks on railroads.

Plessy argued that the law violated his right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. However, in an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled against Plessy, holding that “separate but equal” facilities did not violate the Constitution as long as both blacks and whites were provided with similar amenities.

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The Court reasoned that segregation did not necessarily imply inferiority and that it could be seen as a way to promote harmony between the races. The decision was a major setback for civil rights advocates and helped to legitimize segregation for several decades.

Linda Brown and the Brown v. Board of Education case

It all started with one little girl in Topeka, Kansas named Linda Brown. She was African American and wanted to attend the all-white school near her home instead of the all-black school that she was assigned to. This began a long legal battle that would eventually make its way to the Supreme Court.

The case begins

The case began on May 17, 1954 when the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. In a unanimous ruling, the Court declared that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The case overturned the Court’s earlier decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which had allowed state-sponsored segregation under the “separate but equal” doctrine.

The Supreme Court rules in favor of the Browns

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of the Browns, holding that the racial segregation of children in public schools is unconstitutional. The high court’s ruling overturns the precedent set by its previous decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which held that “separate but equal” accommodations were constitutional.

The Brown v. Board of Education ruling leads to the desegregation of public schools across America and is a major victory for the civil rights movement. Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia immediately begin making plans to integrate their schools, while Maryland announces it will do so over a two-year period. In Topeka, Kansas—where the case began—the city’s schools are integrated without any major incident.

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The aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education

On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public education violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. This decision overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine that had been in place since the Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896.

More lawsuits challenging segregation

More than five hundred individual lawsuits were filed in federal district courts across the country challenging the constitutionality of racial segregation in both public and private facilities. Many of these cases were bundled together and heard by the U.S. Supreme Court as a single argument. These consolidated cases are known collectively as “Brown v. Board of Education.”

The Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, is considered one of the crowning legislative achievements of the civil rights movement.

Title VII of the act makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.


In conclusion, the Brown v Board of Education was a turning point in American history. It not only ended segregation but also showed that all Americans are equal, regardless of race.

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