Brown v. Board of Education, 1954
The Supreme Court Justices heard the case in the spring, but were unable to decide the issue by the end of the court's term in June. The Justices decided to rehear the case in the fall with special attention paid to whether the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause prohibited the operation of separate public schools based on race. In September Chief Justice Fred Vinson, who had been a key stumbling block to a unanimous decision, died and was replaced by Governor Earl Warren of California. Warren had supported the integration of Mexican-American students in California school systems in 1947, after Mendez v. Westminster and when Brown v. Board of Education was reheard, Warren was able to bring the Justices to a unanimous decision. On May 14, 1954, Chief Justice Warren delivered the opinion of the Court, stating, "We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment."
For African Americans, the Supreme Court's decision encouraged and empowered many who felt for the first time in more than half a century that they had a "friend" in the Court. The strategy of education, lobbying, and litigation that had defined the Civil Rights Movement up to that point broadened to include an emphasis on a "direct action." This included boycotts, sit-ins, Freedom Rides, marches, and other tactics that relied on mass mobilization, nonviolent resistance, and civil disobedience all of which would come to define the Modern Civil Rights Movement.