Fighting to end the policy of a “separate but equal” educational system, Brown v. Board of Education consolidated five cases filed in Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Delaware. The case claimed that the “separate but equal” ruling violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The unanimous Supreme Court decision served as a catalyst for the expanding civil rights movement.
In its unanimous opinion of May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ended the “separate but equal” precedent set nearly 60 years earlier. A year later in what is now referred to as “Brown II,” Chief Justice Warren required that the students be “admit[ted] to public schools on a racially nondiscriminatory basis with all deliberate speed.”
Twenty African American parents from Clarendon County, South Carolina, sought better schools with educational facilities, curricula, equipment, and opportunities equal to those provided for white children and challenged the constitutionality of “separate but equal” practices. This was one of the earliest challenges to public school segregation filed in Federal courts. Over the next five years, plaintiffs lost jobs, homes, and even lives. They were harassed and refused service and credit.
This case was heard in May 1951 by a panel of three Federal judges, and it was found that “separate but equal” schools were not in violation of the 14th amendment with Judge J. Waites Waring dissenting. The U.S. District Court did rule that the schools attended by African American children were inferior to the white schools, and they ordered the school system to equalize the facilities. But because Briggs v. Elliot challenged the constitutionality of segregation, the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court affirmed the rights of African American children to attend public schools with white children.
The Supreme Court required admission to public schools on “a racially nondiscriminatory basis,” reversing the ruling of the lower court.
Virginia claimed that education policies, including segregation, were state’s rights under the 10th Amendment. The District Court agreed but decreed that the 14th Amendment guaranteed that facilities had to be equal. After the Brown decision, the lower court reversed itself on the state’s authority over segregation and invalidated part of the Virginia constitution. Regardless, the county school board concluded that everyone was best served “by the separation of races in the public schools,” which led to a resumption of the case.
A three-judge panel at the U.S. District Court in Topeka unanimously held that “no willful, intentional or substantial discrimination” existed in Topeka’s schools. The decision was appealed and became part of the groundbreaking Brown v. Board of Education decision.