This weekend is the 60th anniversary of the historic Brown V. Board Of Education Of Topeka, the court decision that marked the beginning of the end to legal segregation in public schools.
But efforts to end racially segregated schools happened far before the May 17, 1954 Supreme Court ruling that outlawed it at last. Segregated education had deeply embedded roots dating back to the late 1800s.
Black families from rural areas hoping to help their children advance educationally met resistance as a court ruling at the time made certain segregation did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Plaintiffs in the Brown case argued that while school boards claimed racial separation happened under fair conditions – the ‘separate but equal’ concept, it was clear that white schools enjoyed far superior facilities and quality of education.
The class action lawsuit brought by the plaintiffs against the Topeka board was filed in 1951 by 13 parents representing 20 students. Guided by the local NAACP, plaintiffs argued that sending students to the segregated school was a hardship.
Although the Kansas District Court agreed that racial separation was detrimental to Black children, it failed to recognize the chasm of inadequacy when compared to white schools. The Brown V. Board case was actually a series of cases heard by the high court. A young lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, argued on behalf of the plaintiffs, later becoming a Supreme Court justice himself.