Brown v. Board of Ed. of Topeka was a landmark case in the history of American education. It marked a huge turning point in the struggle against segregation and sparked the civil rights movement.
Ever since before the Civil War, racial segregation was common throughout the South. After the war ended, segregation continued to become more oppressive and widespread in the southern states. However, the African Americans still tried with all their effort to regain their civil rights. In 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was formed to fight racial inequality and end segregation. The organization was very effective as it won a number of cases leading to the desegregation of law schools and other professional schools at segregated universities in Mississippi, Maryland, Oklahoma, and Texas. The NAACP also had some success in forcing states to equalize public school funding and to pay teachers in black schools at the same rate as those in white schools. Throughout the South, however, public education for blacks remained terribly inadequate.
There were many cases that led and contributed to Brown v. Board. One of them was Briggs v. Elliott. It started in 1949 when Harry Briggs, a black man who lived in Clarendon County, South Carolina, filed a suit stating that segregation was both unlawful and unjust. This lawsuit failed. The NAACP later filed another lawsuit opposing segregation, but it too was unsuccessful. In Clarendon County in the year of 1949, taxpayers spent $179 on each white child for schooling and $43 for each black child. At black schools, teachers received forty percent less pay than teachers at white schools.
Another case that contributed to Brown v. Board was Sweatt v. Painter. A black man named Heman Sweatt wanted to attend the University of Texas Law School, but, because of his color, they would not admit him. He took this case to the Supreme Court, and in 1950, the Supreme Court forced the University to admit him.
Yet another case that led to Brown v. Board was McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. Oklahoma State University admitted G.W. McLaurin, but made him sit in isolated seats during classes and lunch because he was black. McLaurin took this to court and the Supreme Court made the university stop the segregation.
A major part of the final Brown decision had to deal with the Plessy v. Ferguson case. It began on June 7, 1892, when Homer Plessy was arrested for sitting in a white railroad car, because he was one-eighth black. While in court, he argued that the segregation of railroad cars violated the Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed "equal protection of the law." On May 18, 1896, Judge John H. Ferguson found Homer Plessy guilty of refusing to leave the car marked for whites only. Plessy then went to Supreme Court but still failed to prove his case. Through the Plessy v. Ferguson case, it was decided that racial segregation on railroad cars would be permitted as long as the facilities were equal. This became known as the "separate but equal" ruling and was set as a precedent for future segregation cases.
The first Brown v. Board case started in 1951, when Oliver Brown, a black railroad worker of Topeka in Shawnee County, Kansas, filed a suit against the Topeka Board of Education for not letting Linda Brown, his daughter, attend Summer Elementary School, an all-white school. At age seven, Linda Brown had to travel 1 hour and 20 minutes each morning to her segregated school for black children. If her bus was on time, it dropped her off at school a half-hour before the school opened. Her bus stop was 6 blocks from her home, across a hazardous railroad yard, and her school was 21 blocks from her home. Linda Brown's white friends attended a local school only 7 blocks from her home. They did not have to ride a bus or face dangerous crossings to reach their school. Oliver Brown argued that he wanted the same conditions for his daughter.
On June 25 and 26 of 1951, the US District Court of Kansas heard Brown's case. The NAACP argued that segregated schools gave blacks an inferior feeling. It was proven in recent years that black students who attended desegregated