Brown v. Board of Education


Join Active Minds for an in-depth look at school segregation and the landmark legal case on this topic. We discuss the historic doctrine of "separate but equal" and the social and historical implications of the 1954 Supreme Court decision that shattered it. We will also discuss current trends in the schools that are increasing “de facto” segregation.

Key Lecture Points

  • Brown has been aptly named a “landmark” Supreme Court case. The case not only ended the policy of legal segregation, set forth in Plessy v Ferguson (1896), but also added momentum to the US Civil Rights Movement and inspired struggles for human rights worldwide. While Brown ended legal, or de jure, segregation, the issue of de facto (as a matter of fact or reality, rather than law or policy) segregation still remains an issue in American society today.
  • Brown actually represented 5 separate cases from five different states, with over 200 plaintiffs. Led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the unanimous decision ruled that “separate but equal” school facilities in public education “are inherently unequal”. Thus, the court overturned its own precedent in Plessy, which had legitimized “Jim Crow” laws around the nation.
  • While most certainly a landmark decision, the ruling in this case was hotly contested by many Americans. The use of the US Army in 1957 by President Eisenhower to force the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas is one of the more vivid examples of such resistance.
  • Today, while legal segregation is a thing of the past, de facto segregation still arguably plagues many American school districts. In particular, the Denver metro area has been mentioned explicitly in this context by a 2002 study by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University. Interestingly, Denver has a history with racial segregation in public schools, with the decision of the Supreme Court in Keyes v School District #1 of Denver, CO (1973) being the first instance of a northern state being found guilty of school segregation. Since Denver ceased its court mandated bussing policy in 1995, the Harvard Study found that Denver-area schools are facing increasing levels of segregation of white students from black and Latino students, in a large part due to residential and housing patterns across the area.

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