May 17 – Unanimous Decision in Brown v. Board of Education!!

Posted on May 17, 2018

America - and perhaps most of the world - is far too racist.

But we should remember not to be completely discouraged - not to completely give up - because things ARE better now than they used to be. That doesn't mean we can sit around and brag about things being better, but it DOES show us that hard work can make things better, and we should keep on working...

The way things were...

In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled that racially segregated ____s [fill in the blank] are okay, as long as they are equal.

In other words, having separate-but-equal schools is just fine, having separate-but-equal public swimming pools is dandy, having separate-but-equal whatevers was okay, too.

Under that decision, Jim Crow laws flourished - and black people living under those laws faced a bajillion hardships. Many cities and states pretty much took away voting rights from black citizens and made sure that clean, safe, modern schools - and every other sort of public facility - were pretty much out of reach for black citizens.

Separate things weren't even close to equal, it turns out.
Plus, the idea of being separate was itself turns out.

Even though the U.S. Constitution supposedly guaranteed black citizens voting rights. And even though black people paid their fair share in taxes. And even though the Supreme Court ruling - even though it was racist - did specifically say that the separate facilities had to be EQUAL.

By the end of World War II and the beginning of the 1950s, the NAACP was working to get rid of segregation laws. Lawsuits were filed over segregated schools in several different states.

Including Kansas. A brave man named Oliver Brown filed a class-action suit against the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. A class-action suit is an important tool for justice; bunches of different people who have been harmed by a particular person, institution, or practice can seek justice by combining together their claims. In other words, instead of 100 lawsuits against, say, the Board of Education, there is just one.

Linda Brown
Oliver Brown brought suit on the behalf of his daughter Linda, who was not allowed to attend Topeka's all-white elementary schools. A part of the lawsuit was the argument that the schools were NOT equal - not by a long shot. And that they could never be equal, as long as there was segregation - that segregation itself has a bad effect of people of color.

Guess what? The U.S. District Court in Kansas basically agreed with these points.

But - guess what? The court still stuck with the thing that wasn't working, the thing that could never work. The court seemed to agree with Brown but ruled against him!

Brown pressed on to the Supreme Court.

In the meantime, four other cases related to school segregation had also been appealed to the Supreme Court. The court decided to streamline things by combining all five into a single case, named Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

Even after hearing tons of evidence that "separate but equal" was never equal and couldn't ever be equal, the Supreme Court justices were divided. The Chief Justice - a man named Fred Vinson - seemed to think that the "separate but equal" idea had been a part of U.S. government for so long, it made no sense to overturn it.

But Vinson died before the justices had ruled. And the new Supreme Court Chief Justice (nominated by Republican president Dwight Eisenhower), a fellow named Earl Warren, was able to convince every one of the justices to agree that the bad old law had to go - that "separate but equal" was bunk - that public schools must be racially integrated.

On this date in 1954, the decision was actually handed down. And, as I mentioned, it was unanimous!!!

Of course, a Supreme Court decision can only do so much to change society. Individuals and groups still had to work very hard to actually integrate the schools. An entire movement - the Civil Rights movement - was ignited in part, at least, by this decision and the backlash against it. About 13 years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, even though I was brought up in racially diverse and supposedly tolerant Southern California, there were still lawsuits and recall elections and nastiness about true integration!

But all the forces working for integration now had the law of the land with them, instead of against them. And thanks to the Supreme Court, enormous strides were made.

Things got better, but we still have to work hard to keep the forces of racism stamped down and to increase justice for black people and for all people of color!

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