Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) was the United States
Supreme Court case that ruled that the practice of separating public schools
based on race was unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
This landmark Supreme Court decision overturned 1896 the ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld the constitutionality of the Separate but Equal Doctrine. Brown v. Board of Education determined that this separation of black and white students provided unequal educational opportunities for black children. Prior to this court case, it was held by the Supreme Court that racial segregation was not unconstitutional according to the Fourteenth Amendment as long as the facilities were kept equal. The Due Process Clause entitles citizens to certain legal procedures before being denied the right to life, liberty, and property.
The Equal Protection Clause, which is of significant importance in Brown v. Board of Education, requires that states provide the same amount of rights and protection to all citizens. The main argument, in this case, was that the Separate but Equal Doctrine was not effective because the accommodations for blacks’ educational institutions were far inferior to those for whites.
A class-action suit was filed in 1951 by thirteen families against the City of Topeka, Kansas. Many of these children were forced to attend a school that was several miles from their houses because the closest institutions were considered white only. Under the leadership of the NAACP, these parents attempted to enroll their children in the closest elementary schools but were denied and sent to segregated schools.
In Brown v. Board of Education, the main finding of the Court was that even if schools were equal in educational standards, segregation of black students was detrimental to their educational success and unconstitutional. Expert testimony was presented in court that showed segregation had a negative effect on the mental well-being of black Americans.
The Court concurred that even if it was found that the black and white schools
were evenly matched, which in fact many were not, the act of segregation itself
was unconstitutional. The previous ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson ruled on the aspect of equality in the Separate but Equal Doctrine. Brown v. Board of Education focused on the “separate” aspect, declaring this against the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Due to the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, the City of Topeka integrated their elementary schools. Students were assigned to the school closest to their neighborhood, regardless of their race. There was some severe resistance to the Brown v. Board of Ed decision. The Massive Resistance, for example, took place in Virginia where Senator Byrd resorted to closing down schools rather than desegregating them. In Arkansas, black
students were blocked from entering Little Rock High School. Brown v. Board of
Education was a landmark Supreme Court decision because it denied the claims of
scientific racists that segregation was beneficial for black students.