Word Count: 286In 1896 the Supreme Court had held in Plessy v. Ferguson that racial
segregation was permissible as long as equal facilities were provided for
both races. Although that decision involved only passenger accommodations on
a rail road, the principle of “separate but equal” was applied thereafter to
all aspects of public life in states with large black populations.
of Topeka, Kansas, decided on May 17, 1954, was
one of the most important cases in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Linda Brown had been denied admission to an elementary school in Topeka
because she was black. Brought together under the Brown designation were
companion cases from South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware, all of which
involved the same basic question: Does the equal protection clause of the
14th Amendment prohibit racial segregation in the public schools?
It was not until the late 1940’s that the Court began to insist on equality
of treatment, but it did not squarely face the constitutionality of the
“separate but equal” doctrine until it decided the Brown case. In a brief,
unanimous opinion delivered by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court declared
that: “separate education facilities are inherently unequal” and that racial
segregation violates the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. In a
moving passage, the chief justice argued that separating children in the
schools solely on racial grounds “generates a felling of inferiority as to
their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way
unlikely to be undone.” Although the decision did not bring about total
integration of blacks in the schools, it resulted in efforts by many school
systems to remove the imbalance by busing students. The Court’s decision had
far reaching effects, influencing civil rights legislation and the civil
rights movement of the 1960’s.