When someone mentions the Civil Rights Movement, they probably first think of demonstrations such as Rosa Parks' famous bus ride or the March on Washington D.C. However, the movement goes back further than that, to the late 1890s, when Homer Plessy; was arrested for riding in a white-only railroad car because he was bi-racial. Plessy sued on the grounds that a Louisiana statute requiring segregated streetcars violated his right to equal citizenship under the 14th Amendment. (Wexler 6) His efforts started the spark that gave us the "separate but equal" doctrine. Plessy v. Ferguson held that segregation of the races in public institutions and accommodations was constitutional as long as facilities were "separate but equal". (Cayton, Perry, and Winkler 761) This doctrine effected the school system, in that there were separate schools for white and black children. But it wasn't until the case of Brown v. Board of Education that the "separate but equal" doctrine was questioned. The 1954 Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education was a great legal triumph that destroyed the constitutional foundation upon which legalized segregation rested and created tension in the South.
Prior to the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the precedent of "separate but equal" was set by the 1892 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court Case. Although no laws forced public facilities to be segregated, it existed anyway. (Cozzens 1) Morgues, prisons, polling places, schools, swimming pools,
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restaurants, and even water fountains were either segregated or for whites only. Segregation thus became an American institution, a way of life embedded in the law of the land. (Wexler 6) During this time, the cities went through a process of ghettoization. People lived in areas where others of their ethnic background were. In turn, The schools in these ethnic areas were effected by this segregation. Black schools became under staffed and run down while white schools were well maintained and amply supplied. Many African Americans didn't get a good education because of the lack of fully equipped schools. Southerners were satisfied with the new segregation law, but the African American population was displeased.
After fifty years later in Topeka, Kansas, a black third grader named Linda Brown had to walk one mile through a railroad switchyard to get to her black elementary school, even though a white elementary school was only seven blocks away. Linda's father, Oliver Brown, tried to enroll her in the white elementary school, but the school refused. Brown then went to McKinley Burnett, the head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Topeka and asked for help. The NAACP took up Brown's case and its legal counsel decided on a new legal attack. (Dunn 50) They hired Thurgood Marshall, a black African American lawyer that represented the NAACP to argue on their behalf. Marshall concentrated his racial equality efforts by attacking segregation
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in the nation's public schools. (Lawson 33) At the trial, the NAACP argued that segregated schools made black students feel inferior to whites. The Board of Education's defense was that segregated schools prepared black children for the segregation they would have to face in the future and segregated schools weren't necessarily harmful to black students. The case reached the Supreme Court after being appealed in 1951. The case was then combined with other cases that argued against school segregation. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court struck down the "separate but equal" doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson for public education, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and required the desegregation of schools across America. (Cozzens 2)
The Supreme Court declared, "Separate facilities are inherently unequal." in its 1954 decision of Brown v. Board of Education. (Cayton, Perry, and Winkler 762) The Supreme Court's decision did not abolish segregation in other public areas, such as restaurants and restrooms, nor did it require the desegregation of public schools by a specific time. It did, however, declare mandatory segregation that existed in 21 states unconstitutional. (Cozzens 2) Governor Orval Faubas (Little Rock, Arkansas) declared that he couldn't keep order if integration occurred. But that didn't stop nine black students form attending Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Governor Faubas posted the Arkansas National Guard in front of the school to turn away black students. Due to