Brown v. Board of Education

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Quick facts:
Case:Brown v. Board of Education
Date:May 17, 1954
Ruling:Brown v. Board of Education Decision
Author:Earl Warren
Vote Count:9-0
Majority Justices:Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Jackson, Burton, Clark, Minton
Minority Justices:
Court of Origin:

Ψ-Concurring Opinion Author. Ŧ-Dissenting Opinion Author.

Brown v. Board of Education is the 1954 landmark case of the Supreme Court of the United States that overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, ruling that "separate, but equal" facilities were unconstitutional. With this ruling, federally mandated desegregation of schools began.[1]


With the 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, "separate, but equal" public and private facilities were allowed throughout the United States. This lead to widespread segregation of schools as well.[1]

Oliver Brown was an African American parent whose child was denied enrollment in a Topeka, Kansas, white school. Brown argued that the schools for the black children were not, and would never be, equal to those of the white children, and that this segregation violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. After Brown's case was dismissed by the federal district court, he appealed to the Supreme Court.[2]

In 1952, the Supreme Court decided to hear Brown v. the Board of Education together with Briggs v. Elliot, Davis v. Board of Education of Prince Edward County (VA.), Boiling v. Sharpe and Gebhart v. Ethel. Thurgood Marshall, of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, argued the case, claiming that there was actually no equality in these facilities. He argued that according to sociological tests, black children who attended the separate schools were more likely to feel inferior to white children, proving that the clause did violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Thurgood Marshall would go on to become a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.[1]


  • Chief Justice: Earl Warren
  • Petitioner: Brown, et al
  • Lawyer for the plaintiffs: Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund
  • Defendant: Topeka Board of Education

Court details

U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas

Decision: Brown's case was dismissed on the grounds that the separate schools were "substantially" equal. This ruling acknowledged the precedent set by Plessy v. Ferguson.[2]

Supreme Court of the United States – May 17, 1954

The Supreme Court originally heard the case in 1952. Despite most of the Justices wanting to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson, they could not come to an agreement as to the cause. Without a solution, the Court decided to rehear the case in December of 1953.
In the meantime, Chief Justice Fred Vinson died. Earl Warren became Chief Justice following a nomination from President Dwight Eisenhower. Chief Justice Warren was able to find a consensus with the associate justices in the 1954 decision. On May 14, 1954, Warren gave the unanimous opinion of the court: "We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate, but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. . ."[1]
Decision: The Court ruled against the prevailing notion of separate, but equal. In a 9-0 decision, they held that public school segregation violated the equal protection granted to United States citizens by the Fourteenth Amendment.[3]
Because of the expected backlash, however, the decision did not at that time outline a prescription for the desegregation of schools. Instead, the Attorneys General of states that permitted public segregation in schools were required to submit a plan for integration by May 31, 1955.[1]


Reactions to the rulings varied by state, town, school and family. Some school districts desegregated peacefully, while some required the National Guard to quell the violent protests formed in opposition to the ruling.[4]


If we can organize the Southern States for massive resistance to this order I think that in time the rest of the country will realize that racial integration is not going to be accepted in the South.[5]--Senator Flood Byrd - February 24, 1955[6]

In 1955, the Gray Commission, named for Senator Garland Gray, proposed ways to avoid fulfilling the mandated integration. These reasons included: changing laws so they would state that no child would have to attend a segregated school; giving tuition grants to parents who opposed desegregation of schools; and dictating what school black and white students would attend.[5]


This case finally overruled Plessy v. Ferguson and began the desegregation of schools. In 1958, in the ruling for Cooper v. Aaron, the Supreme Court ordered that states must, in fact, desegregate. Brown also led to an increased racial integration, more protections in the legal and political spheres and an increased fight for racial equality.[2]

See also

External links