The Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision on May 17, 1954 by the U.S. Supreme Court set into motion the desegregation of public schools across the nation. On this day that same year, Washington, D.C. and Maryland public schools racially integrated their classrooms on the heels of the landmark ruling.
The integration of the schools was not without its tensions, most notably in the city of Baltimore. Many schools in the working-class city featured overcrowded and underfunded all-Black facilities in comparison to the larger and better maintained all-White school buildings. Baltimore caught much of the nation’s attention in this integration push as whites resisted the addition of Black students in area schools.
In fact, a major race riot took place on October 1 of that year with police called in to stop fights at Southern High School. And in South Baltimore neighborhoods where many poor, working-class whites lived, protests tried to keep Black students out although the efforts would largely fizzle out and fail.
Washington D.C. desegration faced resistance as well, although much of the fighting wasn’t as widely publicized. However, there were several cases of white students antagonizing Black students to provoke them to anger. Coupled with the resistance of white schools to implement the Brown v. Board ruling unilaterally, change across the District of Columbia was slow, as it was throughout much of the nation.
The federal government finally intervened and began enforcing the unconstitutionality of the longstanding “separate but equal” doctrine that had long been used to maintain racial segregation. Once that was struck down in 1954, it took decades for school districts to finally accept that equal education was a right to all American citizens and that segregation was no longer permissible.