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Brown V. Board of Education Essay

Brown v Board of Education is a historical landmark case that dismantled segregation laws and established a great milestone in the movement toward true equality. The Supreme Courts unanimously decided on Brown v. Board of Education that “separate but equal is inherently unequal.” Ruling that no state had the power to pass a law that deprived anyone from his or her 14th amendment rights. For my historical analysis I will use Richard Kluger’s “Simple Justice”, in which he argues, “that the Declaration of Independence was marred by hypocrisy—all men were not equal if black”. His book will assist me in learning the policies that lead to and surrounded this case.

Using interviews I conducted, where I questioned inner city high school students of their schooling experience in comparison to my brother who attends a predominately white privileged private school, I will ultimately uncover the many inequalities that still exist today. While researching I interviewed my great-Aunt Bertha, who grew up in the state of Mississippi, she had a first-hand experience of life before Brown v Board of Education and life after the Supreme Court ruled on the case, her life was changed forever. My research will focus on not only a historical analysis of what occurred, but how far America has claimed to truly come in dealings with race relations, and the inequalities that still exist today.

The American Civil War was fought from 1861 to 1865 between the United States also known as the “Union” and the few southern states that announced their separation from the United States known as the “Confederates”. The war was based mainly on differing opinions on the issue of slavery. The war lasted about four years and the results yielded in the Confederacy being defeated by the Union. Upon defeating the Confederates, the Union abolished slavery. From that moment on the process of rebuilding the Union as a strong united nation began. This Union was to guarantee freedom to slaves and began the process of having former slaves obtain rights entitled to all citizens. Once the Civil War had ended, so did the policy of legal slavery. However former Confederate leaders did not intend on allowing the former slaves to have all the same rights as whites nor did they intend for former slaves to be counted equally as citizens.

Just before the end of the war, congress had passed the Morrill Act of 1862. This act was to provide for federal funding of higher education. Former slave-holding states decided to find loop holes in allowing former slaves to benefit from the new federal funding as they were not ready to asked them as citizens or even human for that matter. Post-Civil War, the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution granted equal protection under the law to all citizens. Although the amendment was put into effect Congress knew the transition from slave to citizen with a hand full of rights would be difficult for former slaves so to help with the transition process Congress created the Freedmen’s Bureau. This program was created to assist in the integration of former slave into society as citizens. At the end of the reconstruction period in 1877 former Confederate states implemented random laws that would blatantly go against the federal law and the constitutional right granted by the 14th amendment to all including African Americans for equal treatment under the law. Southern state believed they could somehow obey federal orders by having equality yet keeping order by having races remain separate. For many years the court at both state and federal level claimed the 14th amendment applied only to federal, not state, citizenship, therefore they had no control over how a state thought to treat or label an African American on their land. This was proven true of the court in the 1863 Civil Rights Case heard before the Supreme Court.

This case was made up of five lower level court cases and made into one because they all had the same claim. In this case The Court held that Congress lacked the constitutional authority under the enforcement provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment to outlaw racial discrimination by private individuals and organizations, rather than state and local governments. After the end of Reconstruction, the federal government generally did not hear racial segregation cases instead advising the issue be left up to each individual state to handle. In understanding Brown v Board of Education one must first understand a little about Plessey v Ferguson. The issue in this case was can the states constitutionally enact legislation requiring persons of different races to use “separate but equal” segregated facilities? And the Court ruled, yes. The states can constitutionally enact legislation requiring persons of different races to use “separate but equal” segregated facilities, this coming from the highest Court of the land. The trouble with this ideology was that it is contradictory even in its simplest form.

Although the Constitution required equality, the facilities and social services offered to African-Americans were almost always of lower quality than those offered to white Americans; for example, many African American schools received less public funding per student than nearby white schools. Public water fountains, which were label “colored”, were always of lower quality than those labeled for “whites”. Life went on lived with this flawed idea of serrate equality for many years creating an inferior class of citizens, black were at the bottom and therefore not equal. Many people have tried to challenge the “separate but equal” rule but most went unheard and those that were heard failed have a change occur. Eventually in 1954 a case did make it on the Supreme Court docket, that case was Linda Brown v. Board of Education. Brown v Board of Education asked the Supreme Court to answer the question of does the segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race deprive the minority children of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment?

Blacks wanted justice and wanted this question to be answered and clarified for all the nation that they too are people entitle to all the same rights as whites. Thurgood Marshall was one of leading attorney, and civil rights activists, who fought against the segregation laws and policies that were violating the rights of African Americans, especially the children. Kulger “…the African Americans were going to ask equal treatment from top to bottom; buses, buildings, teachers, teacher’s salaries, teaching materials. Everything the same. Anything less was patently in violation of the Fourteenth amendement, Thurgood Marshall explained. “ (18) Thurgood Marshall was one of leading attorney, and civil rights activists, who fought against the segregation laws and policies that were violating the rights of African Americans, especially the children.


Black children were denied admission to public schools attended by white children under laws requiring or permitting segregation according to the races. Linda Browns father though it to be insane that just based solely on the color of his daughters skin she would have to travel really far across train tracks to go to the black only school when they lived near by a school that happened to be labeled whites only. The National Association of the Advancement of Colored People picked up his case, making Linda Brown the poster girl for the cause; She was the embodiment of young black students that were not getting an adequate education that they are entitled to. Brown embellished the ideal look of an average, young, innocent girl, just trying to go to school like any other White child would.

The NAACP hired a team of lawyers and civil rights activist to petition the court to hear out the constitutionality of this issue. The lawyers on the case complied many other cases into the same bulk because they all asked of the court the same question, which was the constitutionality of the separate but equal.

The Supreme Court ultimately decided in favor of Brown and cited, “despite the equalization of the schools by “objective” factors, intangible issues foster and maintain inequality. Racial segregation in public education has a detrimental effect on minority children because it is interpreted as a sign of inferiority. The long-held doctrine that separate facilities were permissible provided they were equal was rejected. Separate but equal is inherently unequal in the context of public education.” This decision called for an end to all state maintained racial segregation. Although the legal end was called for the mentality of many remained the same some going so far as to verbally and physically torture blacks that would dare utilize the same facilities as whites. Brown v Board of Education was decided in 1954 approximately 60 years ago but the strong effects of life before the decision still live on today even in the State of New York which is known to be progressive and liberal I find myself surround by many disparities. Within the New York Public school system for example.

Although we are not literally labeled certain schools as a black school or a white schools the idea of zoning children into schools based on their address is just the new form of “separate but equal” in my eyes. I had the pleasure of interviewing a fellow political science major at The City College of New York. John Miller shared with me his experience within the New York City public school system, where he was educated until his graduation from high school or as he called it “aging out” of the system. John described in detail his experience of never having shared a classroom with a white person before enrolling at City College. John was born and raised in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, New York. Bedford Stuyvesant is widely known as the black cultural mecca of Brooklyn, similar to what Harlem is to Manhattan. He explained to me the way New York City public school system works from kindergarten through 9th grade. Children are assigned a school that is in close proximity to their neighborhood. If they don’t like the school they are assigned to, which many do not, the answer from authority figures is “tough luck” or simply “move”.

Unfortunately John was one of the students that had to stay in his underfunded school. He also told me about his best friend who was one of the lucky few that gained admission into a charter school (which seems to be the only way out of the failed Bedstuy public schools) in downtown Brooklyn. His friend was admitted into the school because his mother’s employer noticed what she felt was great intelligence for someone whose mother was a simple housekeeper. While he spent the day watching his mother clean her house she simply made a phone call to one of her friends who happened to be a big donor to the charter school and in just a few weeks he was being bussed to a 21st century private charter school. He was one of the lucky few to made it out. Miller is now at the University of Chicago studying biology, I hope of becoming a doctor.

Most of their childhood friends from the neighborhood are either in prison most for crimes of necessity given their unfortunate circumstances. He described how another friend would frequently steal from the local grocery story to supply his family with food. Miller would like to point out that he is not trying to create excuses for the crimes committed, however he is sympathetic to their reasoning. He is also not oblivious to the fact that not all the crimes his childhood friends are being incarcerated for are crime of necessity but rather some are crimes of pure boredom. He is not sure where to place blame or on who in either circumstance. The past stories accounts for the majority of the men John knew but the women are not excluding from this group of underachievers.

Most became pregnant at an extremely early age giving birth to children out of wedlock. They gave birth with the expectation that there is always “food stamps/welfare” I don’t need a job” while others are working dead end jobs making minimum wage. In his community education is clearly not something to value and I would make the claim that it is because from kindergarten the schools in this community are underfunded and have teacher who don’t care working in the system.

If the teachers don’t care neither will the students and so the cycle continues. Was this system plan and created by our white socioeconomic counter part? We were taught to believe Brown v Board of Education would change our lives forever. Once the high Court made the claim that “separate but equal” actually was impossible to accomplish and an oxymoron within itself. Mississippi was so defiant towards the Brown v. Board of Education case, schools in the state refused to integrate. Therefore the federal courts in 1969 had to modify the Mississippi “desegregation order”. People still had their racist ideologies and even today 4 of the schools are “single-raced”, although it is legally outlawed.

My aunt Bertha was a student in the Mississippi public school system in the year prior to and post Brown v. Board of education. She vividly recalls sitting with her family around a radio and hearing the Chief Justice announce the courts decision to declare “separate but equal” unconstitutional. Making separate schools for whites and black she thought would immediately become a something of the past. She admits to being very nervous yet excited about the idea of going to schools that white people would also go to. She even recalls telling her dad “maybe we wont have to share books anymore” pointing to the fact that her school was so underfunded and there weren’t enough books to go around.

Bertha says 2 years after the decision was handed down by the court she remained a student at a school on the east side of the track which were for black and the whites remained enrolled in the other school. She visits once a year now for her high school reunion and is just now starting to notice some integration almost 60 plus years later the principle proudly announced we “now have a white population of 2.3 percent” although she was proudly to see Brown v. Education being implemented into her hometown she still is saddened by the fact that people of color on her side of the track could potentially go through life without ever having much interaction with the other race if they so chose.

This saddens her because we are now living in 2012 and our President is black however whites and some blacks still seem very uncomfortable with they idea of being together, not just in the classroom but also in all aspects of life. “Segregation was an unmitigated evil, and no black man anywhere in America was free of its scar so long as the Supreme Court tolerated it” (290) We are still living in a systematic world of segregation in the New York City School System in the public and private sector. Schools where most of the students are minorities get underfunded. Is this a problem of economics? Distribution? Or an ongoing internal racism that often gets ignored?


Kluger, Richard. Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality. New York: Vintage, 2004. Print.

“Mississippi Schools Still Segregated Despite Court Order.” Breaking News for Black America RSS. NewsOne Staff, 4 May 2011. Web. 18 Dec. 2012. Miller, J (2012, 5 October) Personal Interview
Moore, B (2012 15, October) Telephone Interview

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