Welcome to Brown v. Board NHPThe Brown decision relies heavily on the times it was argued and serves as a stepping stone to the Modern Civil Rights movement. Throughout your visit at Brown v. Board of Education NHP, we'll cover several topics: Slavery, Emancipation, Social Resistance, Civil Rights and the 'Case of the Century,' Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
The Brown DecisionAs we set the stage, try to remember the result of the case and see how the struggle, hard work, and genius of those involved did or didn't pay off. After more than a century of legal and civil battles, a group called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people, finally reached a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court when Chief Justice Earl Warren issued the court's decision: "We conclude, in the field of public education, the doctrine of 'Separate but Equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."
Do you think we're living up to the promise of Brown v. Board today?
In front of you is the auditorium, where we have an introductory film covering the context surrounding Brown v. Board. The film is approximately 30 minutes long. It plays on loop throughout the day and is made from five different five minute segments. Feel free to watch as many or as few as you'd like.
Setting the Stage
Slavery and Oppression
While slavery and oppression weren't new concepts. The history of oppression in the United States for many people of color, dates back to sixteen nineteen. The privateer ship The White Lion arrived at Point Comfort, Va., and later Jamestown, Va., carrying approximately 20-30 Africans who were traded in exchange for supplies. Slavery had reached the new world.Read More: Enslavement & Civil War
Do you think slave-owners who didn't beat and torture enslaved people were any different than people who did?
After enduring hundreds of years of enslavement, the United States nearly being torn apart, and freedom granted to only some, the day had finally arrived. On December 6, 1865, the United States Congress ratified the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, except as punishment for a crime. This act would turn over a bright new chapter in our nation's history, or so some thought.
Many whites didn't want to comingle with people they had viewed as animals and property for centuries, let alone be on equal footing with them. With few laws protecting the treatment of these newly freed people, several states developed policies, dubbed the Black Codes, to prevent even a semblance of equality for non-whites.
Read More: The Black Codes
Despite the harsh resistance, most African-Americans saw voting as their civic duty. Farmers, Soldiers, Freedmen, Teachers, and all other walks of life showed up to cast their vote. Many Black elected officials never saw office due to harsh white resistance. Others leveraged their offices to make strides forward for all people. Amendments like the 14th and 15th were added to the constitution, guaranteeing equal protection of the laws, citizenship, and the right to vote without the taxes or tests of the past.
Do you think Congress has a moral responsibility to create laws to prohibit social practices when those practices are harmful to others?
The Road to Brown
Separate but (Un)Equal
The Birth of Jim CrowWith some civil rights being granted by new acts and amendments, a new series of laws took the place of the Black Codes. These laws separated whites and non-whites, dictating where people could eat, sleep, work, live, and otherwise enjoy their lives.
This spirit of discrimination that often created better facilities for whites and oppressing people of color were dubbed, Jim Crow.
Read More: Who was Jim Crow?
Plessy v. Ferguson — 1896
A group called the Citizen's Committee of New Orleans challenged the act by sending one of its members to sit in a white car, refuse to leave, and be arrested under the law. In response, the group filed a lawsuit.
The U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled against Plessy in a 7-1 decision. Justice Henry Billings Brown delivered the court's opinion, stating so long as the facilities provided equal accommodations:
"We cannot say that a law which authorizes or even requires the separation of the two races in public conveyances is unreasonable"
Only Justice John Marshall Harlan voted to rule against segregation. In his dissent he would give a voice to the voiceless, slowly sway public opinion, and open the door to future challenges to Plessy.
“Our constitution is colorblind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.”
The U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in this case instituted the doctrine of Separate but Equal which became the law of the land.
Read More: Plessy v. Ferguson
Do you think this view was taught or were these whites born with it?
How can we avoid teaching this view to kids in the future?
Case of the Century
NAACP Enters the SceneIn response to the Springfield Race Riot of 1908, and seeing a need for a nation-wide coordinated effort for racial equality, a diverse group of individuals including writer Ida B. Wells, historian W.E.B. DuBois, suffragist Mary White Ovington, and Sociologist Henry Moskowitz founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
This group would go on to confront the issue of Separate but Equal through a series of carefully selected lawsuits. By the time the group had a formal plan to target inequality however, the NAACP couldn't afford to follow the it until the late 1930's due to the Great Depression.
Read More: The Margold Report
Charles Hamilton Houston
Read More: Charles Hamilton Houston
A few of his plan's milestones include:
Murray v. Pearson — 1936Maryland courts ruled that sending law students out of state, rather than admit them to white universities, could not prepare them for a career in Maryland. A great victory for the state.
Read More: Murray v. Pearson
Gaines v. Canada — 1938The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that each state must provide equal opportunities, not just offer to pay students attend out-of-state schools.
Read More: Gaines v. Canada
Sweatt v. Painter — 1950The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the experiences, opportunities, and prestige all impact education. Things that can't be touched or held can still have value.
Read More: Sweatt v. Painter
Brown v. Board of Education — 1954
Briggs v. Elliott — 1949 Parents in Clarendon County, S.C. had asked the county to provide buses for their children, as they had for the white students. When they were ignored, they filed a lawsuit challenging segregation itself.
Read More: Briggs v. Elliott
Bolling v. Sharpe — 1951The Consolidated Parents Group, Inc. tried to enroll 11 African-American students an all-white school in 1950. The students were denied based on race, and the parents filed a lawsuit.
Read More: Bolling v. Sharpe
Davis v. Prince Edward County — 1951In 1951, Barbara Rose Johns organized a student strike to speak out against terrible conditions in her school in Farmville, Va. More than 450 students participated and more than 150 filed a lawsuit. They demanded the state segregation law be struck down.
Read More: Davis v. Prince Edward County
Belton (Bulah) v. Gebhart — 1951Two different cases, parents tried to enroll their children in white schools to avoid poor conditions, or provide transportation. When they were denied, they filed lawsuits.
Read More: Belton (Bulah) v. Gebhart
Brown v. Board of Education — 1951The NAACP recruited 13 families in Topeka to try to enroll their children in white schools. When they were denied they filed a lawsuit. Topeka's school system actually looked equal in what you could see, feel, and touch though, so there was nothing to 'equalize.' Segregation itself was the target here.
The U.S. District Court ruled against integration, but accepted psychological evidence that African-Americans were adversely affected by segregation itself.
Read More: Brown v. Board of Education
A Turning Point
The Argument for SegregationAttorneys representing segregation such as John S. Davis, Paul E. Wilson, H. Albert Young, and Milton Kormon relied heavily on the letter of the law of the constitution and states' rights to self-govern when no guidance was provided by the constitution. Such arguments as:
The Argument Against SegregationThurgood Marshall and his team relied on the inequalities experienced because of segregation, as well as expert testimony of the psychological damage that resulted from indoctrinating children in the practice.
PsychologyDrs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark had been conducting a study on the impacts of segregation in school children as early as the 1930's. They would sit down with white and black children alike, ages 6-9, and ask them a series of questions while presenting them with two dolls.
With one white doll and one black doll in front of the children, the Clarks would ask:
"Which doll is the nice one?"
"Which doll is the ugly one?"
"Which doll do you want to play with?"
The Clarks asked several similar questions while observing the children's behavior with the dolls as well as their answers. A majority of students pointed to the white doll for the nice positive questions, and the black doll for the mean negative ones.
They then asked, "Which doll looks most like you?"
Black students would cry, refuse to answer, leave the room, and even choose the white doll.
The NAACP asked the Clarks to expand the study into southern schools, like Liberty Hill Colored school in Clarendon County, S.C., to compare the results from students from several situations. When the results were the same as students from northern states — which had mostly social segregation as opposed to legal segregation — they concluded the act of segregation itself, not the difference in facilities, caused psychological damage to the black self-image that was unlikely to heal as the damage had been done at such a young age.
The DecisionEchoing the U.S. District Court's earlier decision in Kansas, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted the Clark's study as evidence and concluded that the 14th and 5th Amendments had been violated, as the states and Washington D.C. had denied equal protection of the laws when it damaged one population but not another through segregation. On May 17th, 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the opinion of the court:
"Any language in Plessy v. Ferguson contrary to this finding is rejected ... Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs [are] deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment."
This wasn't a decision the court had taken lightly. While Justice Fred Vinson was the Chief Justice, the court had been deeply divided over the issue and requested to hear arguments multiple times so they continue deliberating.
When Vinson died of a heart attack during the case, he was replaced by Gov. Earl Warren of California.
Warren was able to do something Vinson couldn't. He was able to convince the remaining hold-out Justices to agree to the opinion above. Unlike Justice John Marshall Harlan in the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, none of the justices dissented.
A unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme essentially closed the door on future challenges to Brown v. Board.
Without that voice for segregation in the nation's highest court, even though the opinion was limited to the narrow realm of public education, it sent a resounding message to the United States as a whole.
Segregation is inherently unequal.
The Legacy of Brown
Change didn't happen overnight. Deliberations continued in the remedy phase of the case for more than a year after the decision. The court heard plans from the NAACP Attorneys, and even reached out to Attorneys General of various segregated states for an answer of how to best handle integration.
Little Rock Nine — 1957
Faubus went so far as to order the National Guard of Arkansas to physically block students of color from attending Central High School in Little Rock.
Ruby Bridges — 1960
Ruby was born September 8, 1954, four months after the initial Brown decision. Yet she was the first to integrate her school in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Modern Civil Rights Movement
Brown had opened the door with public education, but what about busses? lunch counters? hotels? pools? movie theaters? housing? The Brown decision hadn't integrated anything beyond public schools, but it opened a path forward. People like Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and even Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson stepped up to do what they thought was right to promote equality in this country. Millions of Americans from all walks of life followed suit, demanding freedom and justice for all.
Montgomery Bus Boycotts — 1955-1956
Building off the progress made in the Brown decision, on December 1st, 1955, a woman named Rosa parks paid for a bus fare at the front, exited the bus, and re-entered through the Black entrance in the back — per the custom at the time. She sat down in the first row of Black seats.
Sit-Ins — 1960-1961
Building off of the growing momentum from movements like the bus boycotts, a group of students in Greensboro North Carolina sat at a whites-only lunch counter and refused to leave until they were served or arrested.
Freedom Riders — 1961
In 1946, the U.S. Supreme Court had banned segregation on interstate travel. Putting that ruling to the test, groups like the Congress of Racial Equality began travelling through southern states as early as 1947.
Civil Rights act of 1964
President John F. Kennedy had demanded that Congress develop a comprehensive civil rights bill to protect the equality of all citizens. He publicly advocated for equal rights in the United States:
Civil Rights Expanding
Over the years, activists for people with disabilities in the United States advocated for the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life. It wouldn't be until 1990 that the Americans with Disabilities Act — modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — would be signed into law.
Reflect on the World Today
We like to think of the United States as the 'Land of the Free and Home of the Brave,' but can we truly be free without people brave enough to stand up for equality?
Education in Topeka
The Kindergarten Room
By 1928, the Topeka School Board announced segregated education would be the standard from kindergarten through eighth grade. Construction on Monroe School started in 1926 and was completed in 1927. Four schools were built for "colored" students between 1926 and 1927: Monroe, McKinley, Washington and Buchannan. All would be up and running by the time the district officially separated the students based on race.
Kindergarten Class — 1949
At the height of “permitted segregation” in Kansas, this room was designed as an inviting place where children could feel protected and free from the restrains of a segregated community.
By 1897, many southern African Americans had moved to Kansas. Reverend Charles Sheldon established kindergarten classes for the children of “Exodust” homesteaders. In Topeka, black migrants settled mainly in 4 communities: Tennessee Town, Mud Town, Sand Town, and the Bottoms.
Education in the Age of Jim Crow
Jim Crow laws legally sanctioned segregation. Settlement patterns, economics, changing demographics, and court cases all contributed to how legal sanctions and discrimination evolved and changed in the military, transportation, and education. In Topeka, the dual school system functioned adequately mainly because the school district maintained a standard of “as equal as possible.” This auditorium is symbolic of a tangible level of equality, within a segregated community.
Master Teacher Mamie Williams
Black teachers educated black children in the first years of schooling. They committed every aspect of their master’s level training to prepare their students socially and academically. Teachers like Mamie Williams encouraged students to “be a miracle” and held high expectations for academic success.
Monroe and Randolph Grade Schools — 1949
In 1949, Monroe Elementary was one of four segregated elementary schools in Topeka. Unlike southern states, Kansas law only permitted segregation in elementary schools and only in cities with more than 15,000 residents. These students would attend integrated junior high and high schools.
Auditorium as Lunchroom
At 11:30 a.m. each day, the lunch bell rang. The older students assisted their young schoolmates who did not walk home for lunch, across the street to Miss Laura’s Coffee Shop where they purchased hot chili, soda pop, and candy. They would then make their way back to the school auditorium to have lunch.
Linda Brown attended Monroe grade school until the 6th grade and the time of the NAACP lawsuit that became known as Brown v. Board of Education. Her family resided in a racially-mixed community near the Sumner grade school where her father, Oliver Brown, tried to enroll her.
Contrary to the standard preparation for "colored" students throughout Topeka’s segregated schools, African-American children were educated in the trade occupations for eventual service work. However, students saw examples of black professionals such as lawyers, physicians, educators, and entrepreneurs, which they could emulate. Topeka’s black community pressed forward to establish a thriving independent economy with multiple residents enjoying the benefits of an upper-class existence.
Topeka's African-American Teachers — 1949
Not everyone supported the NAACP’s challenge of the separate but equal law. Many highly qualified African-American teachers stood silent. Collectively, they did not believe the "colored" schools were substandard, and they had doubts that "colored" students would do as well in integrated schools.
Grades 3 & 4
The separation of white and black children in Topeka’s public elementary schools did not occur swiftly. School boards were granted discretionary power to “provide separate schools for the education of colored and white children,” yet Topeka moved cautiously towards creating a dual school system.
Grades 5 through 8
The 2nd floor of Monroe Grade School was home to the 5th through 8th grades. This floor housed a domestic science class where girls learned home economics. At later times, this floor had as a library, a music room, and a teacher’s lunchroom.
Monroe Grade School hosted annual 8th grade graduation ceremonies. Based on local school records, 80% of the students who passed through the "colored" grade schools advanced on to Topeka High School, which at the time was the largest high school facility in the county.
Enslavement & Civil War
Within a century the practice of owning human beings as cattle was booming. It became a multi-billion dollar business by today's dollar. It was the backbone of several states' economies.
The Black Codes
Blacks couldn't testify in, or serve on a jury for cases regarding a white person. They couldn't quit their job, or lease their farm as a white man could. They had to pass a test, or pay a hefty tax in order to vote. Vagrancy became a crime, but only if you weren't white. Anyone who violated any of these laws could be sent to prison.
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Who was Jim Crow?
Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s one main pastime was song and dance minstrel shows. Tom Rice, not the first to don black-face and insult enslaved people, quickly became one of the most popular. He's one of the most remembered today, and even called the Father of Minstrelsy through in insulting character he created, named Jim Crow.
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Roberts v. Boston
Despite Massachusetts ending slavery by the late 1700s, students of color still faced racism in classrooms. Many Black parents turned to private schools ran by churches or communities for their children, which quickly became the norm. Over the next few decades, local officials stopped admitting any students of color. Black parents were now paying taxes for a school system their children couldn't attend.
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Plessy v. Ferguson
After Louisiana passed the Separate Car Act in 1890, a group called the Citizen's Committee of New Orleans, challenged the law by sending one of its members, Homer Plessy, to sit in a white car, refuse to leave, and be arrested under the law.
The Margold Report
Read More: Roberts v. Boston
Margold's strategy was to point out that under-funding and poor conditions in Black schools didn't meet the "Separate but Equal" standard and face administrators with a choice: either the costly option of building 'equal' facilities for Black students, or the much cheaper option of simply integrating schools.During the Great Depression, when funds were almost nowhere to be found, this seemed like a sound strategy, but presented a double-edged sword. The NAACP also couldn't afford to follow through with the plan immediately.
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Charles Hamilton Houston
Houston had served in the Army as a First Lieutenant during World War I and experienced violent discrimination first-hand. He vowed to make the world a better place in the best way he knew how, the law.
Murray v. Pearson — 1936
A young man, Donald Gaines Murray, tried to enroll at the University of Maryland School of Law, but was denied on race alone. The school offered to help Murray attend a university out of state instead. Murray rejected the offer and sued the president of the university.
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Gaines v. Canada — 1938
Like the Murray case, Lloyd Gaines tried to enroll in the University of Missouri Law School. He was refused only because he was Black. No law schools in Missouri would allow people of color to enroll. Like in Maryland the school offered to help him attend university in Iowa instead.
What do you think happened to Lloyd Gaines, a Black man in 1930's Missouri who demanded integration?
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Sweatt v. Painter — 1950
Houston became ill and passed away from a heart attack in 1950. Thurgood Marshall took up the NAACP's cause. Marshall represented Heman Sweatt as he sued the president of his school.
Briggs v. Elliott — 1949
Parents in Clarendon County, S.C. had asked the county to provide buses for their children, as they had for the white students. When they were ignored, they filed a lawsuit challenging segregation itself.
Bolling v. Sharpe — 1950
The Consolidated Parents Group, Inc. launched a campaign against segregated schools in Washington D.C. in 1947.
Davis v. Prince Edward County — 1951
In 1951, Barbara Rose Johns organized a student strike to speak out against terrible conditions in her school in Farmville, Va. More than 450 students from Moton High School participated in the two-week protest, and they requested assistance from the NAACP branch office in Richmond, Va.
Belton (Bulah) v. Gebhart — 1951
Parents in Delaware brought up two separate cases. In one, their children had to ride a bus to far-off run-down facilities. In another, the school didn’t provide Black busses at all. They were represented by Louis Redding. Redding, the state's first Black attorney, suggested they enroll their children in white schools nearby.
Brown v. Board of Education — 1951
The NAACP needed to build a case to challenge segregation without the risking an 'equalization' order by the courts. They set their sights on Kansas where schools were built with the idea of 'Equal but Separate.' If they could prove segregation itself was unconstitutional it would be a huge step forward. Topeka was somewhat unique because it tried to create as equal facilities as possible, while still maintaining segregated schools.
Last updated: June 2, 2022