Brown v. Board of Education

Monroe School, Brown v. Board of Ed. NHS
Photograph by Melissa Fontenette-Mitchell
Courtesy of North Star Photography
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  Thurgood Marshall NAACP special counsul Thurgood Marshall
Photograph by Oliver F. Atkins
Photograph courtesy of Atkins Collection, George Mason University Libraries

Monroe Elementary School (now Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site) and Sumner Elementary School (a National Historic Landmark) are two of the schools in Topeka , Kansas and elsewhere in the country that played a significant role in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education. On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The decision dismantled the legal framework for racial segregation in public schools and Jim Crow laws which limited the rights of African Americans, particularly in the South. The decision forced the desegregation of public schools in 21 states.

Elementary schools in Kansas had been segregated since 1879 by a state law allowing cities with populations of 15,000 or more to establish separate schools for African American children and White children. African American parents in Kansas began filing court challenges as early as 1881. By 1950, 11 court challenges to segregated schools had reached the Kansas State Supreme Court. None of the cases successfully overturned the state law. In 1950 the Topeka NAACP organized another case, this time a class action comprised of 13 families. The basis for the plaintiff complaint was that their children were forced to ride school buses or city buses to reach segregated schools often many blocks from home. The Topeka NAACP filed suit on their behalf in February of 1951, but by August a federal three-judge panel ruled that although segregation might be detrimental, it was not illegal, since Topeka schools had equal facilities and programs. Their appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was joined by similar cases from Delaware, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington, D.C. The court ruling combined these five cases under the heading Oliver L. Brown et. al. vs. the Board of Education of Topeka , (KS) et. al. Mr. Brown was the assigned lead plaintiff in the Kansas class action and became namesake of the court decision. Special counsel Thurgood Marshall argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that segregation was unconstitutional because it stigmatized African Americans, thereby denying them the equal protection guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Chief Justice Earl Warren and a unanimous court agreed.

Brown intensified resistance by white supremacist groups and government officials sympathetic to the segregationist cause, but it encouraged and empowered African Americans, who for the first time in more than half a century felt they had a "friend" in the Supreme Court.

The Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Site is located at 1515 SE Monroe in Topeka, KS. Guided tours of the school are available 9:00am to 5:00pm daily, closed major holidays. For more information, call 785-354-4273, or click here.

Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Site is the subject of an online-lesson plan produced by Teaching with Historic Places, a National Register program that offers classroom-ready lesson plans on properties listed in the National Register. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.

The Need For Change The Players The Strategy The Cost The Prize

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