What Was the Ruling in Brown v. Board of Education?

In this historic decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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Introduction

On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its landmark decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The unanimous ruling declared that “separate but equal” public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional.

The court’s decision overturned the separate but equal doctrine that had been established by an earlier Supreme Court decision, Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). In Plessy, the court had ruled that “separate but equal” facilities were constitutional as long as blacks were given equal accommodations.

With its ruling in Brown, the Supreme Court set a precedent that would eventually lead to the integration of all public schools in America.

The Events Leading Up to the Case

The case that would become Brown v. Board of Education began in the early 1950s, when a number of African American families in Topeka, Kansas, attempted to enroll their children in the city’s all-white schools. When the families were denied admission, they filed a lawsuit against the Topeka Board of Education, alleging that the segregated school system was unconstitutional. The case eventually made its way to the United States Supreme Court.

Before hearing the case, the Supreme Court asked for additionallegal arguments on whether or not its decision in Plessy v. Ferguson—which had established the “separate but equal” doctrine—should be overturned. In Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” education was not actuallyequal and therefore violated the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees all citizens “equal protection under the law.”

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The Case Itself

The case of Brown v. Board of Education was actually a consolidation of four cases that were heard by the Supreme Court. The cases were from Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware. In each case, African American students were trying to attend schools that were segregated by race. The students argued that this segregation violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, which guarantees all citizens the same protections under the law.

The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the African American students, declaring that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. In his opinion, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that “separate but equal” education was inherently unequal. This ruling led to the integration of public schools across the United States.

The Aftermath of the Case

After the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, schools across America were desegregated. This process was not always easy, as many communities were reluctant to give up their segregated schools. In some cases, violence broke out, as white parents and students tried to stop black students from attending their schools.

The federal government also had to get involved in desegregation efforts. In 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce a court order that allowed nine black students to attend a previously all-white high school.

More than 60 years after the Brown decision, some schools are still struggling to achieve racial diversity. In many cases, this is because neighborhoods are heavily segregated by race and income. As a result, it can be difficult for schools to create diverse student bodies, even when they want to.

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What the Case Meant for America

On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the opinion for a unanimous Court, declaring that “separate but equal” public schools were unconstitutional and calling for an end to racial segregation in education.

The impact of the Brown decision was immediate and far-reaching. Although it would take many years and numerous lawsuits to implement fully, the ruling set a precedent that desegregation should be accomplished “with all deliberate speed.” School districts across the country began crafting plans to comply with the decision, while southern states—including Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana—and their white citizens angrily resisted what they saw as federal interference in local affairs. Some states even closed their public schools rather than integrate them.

The struggle over desegregation continued for decades as different groups fought for and against integration in communities across America. In 1957, nine African-American students known as the “Little Rock Nine” tried to enroll at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas; Governor Orval Faubus sent in the Arkansas National Guard to stop them. President Dwight D. Eisenhower responded by sending in troops from the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division to escort the students into the school; they were finally admitted on September 25 after a three-week standoff captured national headlines.

In subsequent years, other major events in the civil rights movement also helped further desegregation efforts in America’s public schools: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color or national origin in any public facility; and on February 1, 1968, a federal court ordered that all public schools in Orange County, Floridamust be integrated “at once” following race riots that had broken out after several African-American students tried to enroll at an all-white high school there.

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Today, nearly 60 years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision was handed down, its legacy continues to influence debates about race and education in America.

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