Landmark Decisions (Part 3)

Landmark Decisions

A CENTURY OF CHANGE (1856-1955)

Inherently Unequal
On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision on segregation in public elementary schools. That case, which consolidated a number of matters on appeal from Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia and Delaware, was titled Brown v. Board of Education.

Like in Sweatt and McLaurin, the Court here considered criteria beyond the physical facilities and other tangible assets of black and white schools. So, even if the black schools and white schools had substantially equal buildings, curricula, classroom materials, teacher qualifications and salaries, the separate schools still possibly did not offer equal educational opportunities.

Turning to the effect of segregation on school children, the Court noted that to separate black children from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.



In the field of public education the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.


This sense of inferiority affects their motivation to learn and, thus, has a tendency to retard their educational and mental development and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system. The Court then held that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional and rejected any language in Plessy that ran contrary to this.

So, in this century of change, people once enslaved were unshackled and set free. People once isolated were integrated into society. People once looked down upon returned to lead. And, these leaders guided not just themselves but the entire nation to a better place. A place where people have never been freer. A place where justice has never been fairer. And, a place where the promise of America has never been finer.

Full Opinion
Brown v. Board of Education I.
Brown v. Board of Education II.

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