The Role Of Brown V. The Board Of Education
In The Issue Of Racial Discrimination
The Supreme Court deals with over 300, 000 cases every year. It is the job of the
government to ensure its peoples' natural rights as well as guarantee their life, liberty,
and pursuit of happiness. Court cases involve just about every aspect of life, whether
they concern freedom of the press, freedom of speech, or issues such as racial
discrimination. Racial discrimination has been a very controversial issue over the years.
It has been a wavering decision whether or not to have segregation in America, yet one
particular court case contradicted the belief of segregation; Brown vs. the Board of
What is unique about this particular court case, is that it is one of the few cases
that have been an overturn or a reversal of a previous case. For example, the Supreme
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Court has issued many decisions of court cases that have been final and not refuted.
However, the decision of the Brown vs. the Board of Education was an overturn of the
Plessy v. Ferguson case. “Months of backroom conversations proved successful for
Warren: Brown, which overruled Plessy by finding that ‘separate but equal' was
‘inherently unequal' and therefore unconstitutional, was a 9-0 decision” (Dershowitz
The main issue of this court case was that of racial segregation. However,
because of this very general topic, it can cover issues ranging from slavery to the right to
vote. All these areas deal with how blacks and whites have been considered unequal in
America. The main reason why this case became so popular was because it battled an
issue that has been present in America for decades.
Even though there has always been hostility between blacks and whites, it peaked
during the times of the Civil War. “Garrison, the editor of the Liberator, a new weekly
newspaper, said slavery was a sin and demanded that it be immediately abolished”
(Morin 15). During the 1850s and 1860s, slavery was the main focus because it was the
evident idea that blacks were inferior to whites. Even after President Abraham Lincoln
tried to free all black slaves in the South, there was still tension between the whites and
blacks because whites felt that blacks were taking their positions in jobs and other areas.
They felt that the only reasonable positions for blacks were as slaves for whites.
A major result of the emancipation of slaves by Lincoln was the formation of the
KKK, also known as the Ku Klux Klan. They were their own police in the sense that
they killed blacks in the middle of the night and even killed any whites who supported
blacks in the slave movement. They were unhappy with the freeing of slaves because
they felt like blacks were taking their jobs. Attempts to suppress slavery, such as the
Dred Scott Case, only left a dent in the process of suppressing slavery, but it was not until
the words were clearly stated in the 13th Amendment that they were put into practice.
“ Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the
party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place
subject to their jurisdiction.” (McClenaghan 774).
Along with slavery, blacks and whites have further been divided according to skin
color. For example, they have been separated in schools, neighborhoods, buses, etc.
Blacks and whites also separated in their rights to vote. It wasn't until the Fifteenth
Amendment that black men had an equal opportunity to vote as white men. However, the
rights of African Americans were either slightly noticed or not noticed at all compared to
those of whites. The Fifteenth Amendment could not be effective unless people worked
together to enforce it. “Yet for almost 90 years the Federal Government paid little
attention to voting rights for African Americans” (McClenaghan 159).
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There has been an ongoing process of ways to suppress racial segregation and one
event sparked the beginning of the next. For example, Rosa Parks was a woman who
fought against her right as a black woman to sit in a white-only section of a bus.
However, she was arrested for attempting to stand up for her rights and her bravery
sparked the struggle for equality between blacks and whites. The Montgomery Bus
Boycott followed as a result of the heroic deeds of Rosa Parks, in which black students
refused to take buses until they were able to choose where they could sit.
Another person who was influential in the struggle for equality was Martin Luther
King Jr. He had his famous “I have a dream” speech in which he foresaw blacks and
whites being equal and being free of segregation and racial discrimination. He had a
powerful influence on peoples' views of racial discrimination and segregation by refusing
to use violent protests. He aroused an awareness of the issues of prejudice in America
and he also followed in the footsteps of Rosa Parks by initiating the Montgomery Bus
Besides influential people in the struggle for civil rights, there have also been
many organizations or laws that have been aimed at improving the rights of blacks. “The
movement against segregation was led by the National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People (NAACP), which had been founded in 1910 to promote black welfare
by a group of black and white liberals that included scholar W.E.B. DuBois” (Dershowitz
339). Other than the NAACP, there were many specific laws that were aimed at
ensuring civil rights. For example, the Civil Right Act of 1875 was an attempt to
eliminate racial discrimination and segregation between blacks and whites by punishing
any company or business that practiced discrimination. Furthermore, there were many
post-Civil War laws attempting to establish equality between blacks and whites. One of
the many civil rights acts claims, “[All] citizens of the United States,…of every race and
color, …shall have the same right, in every State and Territory of the United States,…to
inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property…as is enjoyed
by white citizens….” (McClenaghan 570).
Despite particular organizations, acts, and people who try to suppress certain
issues in America, the Supreme Court is a single factor in the effects of a particular issue.
With all the cases that the Court solves, ranging from issues on abortion to issues about
the right to counsel, the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education is one of the most
widely known cases because it solved one of the largest issues in America.
“The Appellants claim that the segregation of white and African-American
children in the public schools of Topeka solely on the basis of race denied the African-
American children equal protection under the law guaranteed by the Fourteenth
Amendment” (Knappman 466). This case contained the idea of whether or not black and
white children could attend the same schools. This 1954 case involved a 10 year old girl
named Linda Brown who was unable to attend the school in her neighborhood due to the
color of her skin. Oliver Brown showed great bravery for protesting in a case such as
this, especially when people have lost their lives due to standing up for their rights, as
during the time of the KKK. The results of this case not only overturned the decision of
Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, but it also stirred life in the United States and affected the
people in many ways.
In the Plessy v. Ferguson case, the courts denied Plessy's plea of equality under
the law. The courts felt that there could be separate or segregated facilities as long as
they are equal. The results of the case were based upon the idea of the 14th Amendment
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and how states can't disagree with distinctions among persons under the law because they
are all equally protected. The courts felt that the terms of this Amendment only required
the civil equality of blacks and whites and gave them the civil rights they were due;
however, it didn't require blacks and whites to be socially equal in the United States.
Once Plessy's claim in the case was denied, racial segregation continued on until the case
of Brown v. the Board of Education. “After nearly 60 years of legalized discrimination,
the Court had thrown out Plessy v. Ferguson” (Knappman 470).
Because of the argument of Brown, the courts took into consideration that the
“separate but equal” idea was degrading to the idea of equality because blacks and whites
were still not equal.
“Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a
detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has
the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted
as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the
motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has
a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of Negro children
and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly]
integrated school system” (Knappman 468).
The Supreme Court not only took away the “separate but equal” title, but it also declared
segregation by race unconstitutional in the United States. “Does segregation of children
in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other
‘tangible' factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal
educational opportunities? We believe that it does” (McClenaghan 603).
Brown v. the Board of Education was a case that truly sparked the struggle for
rights in America. African Americans gained confidence and courage as a result of the
decision of the Supreme Court in this Brown case. Not only did it show that they could
fight for equality to whites, but it also showed that they could prove a point in America
and Oliver Brown, in particular, was a person who set out to fight for not only his
daughter's right of going to school with whites, but also for his people's rights or the
rights of the African American people. “ In retrospect, it is remarkable how controversial
Brown was at the time it was rendered. Today, virtually no lawyer, regardless of judicial
philosophy, tries to justify the constitutionality of legally segregated schools”
Even though the results of the case were life-changing for most people and
truly made a difference in America, it is unfortunate that prejudice and discrimination
still exist somewhat today. This idea of de facto is present in many ways. For example,
gerrymandering is one way of reinforcing racial segregation in America.
“Gerrymandering based solely on race, however, is a violation of the Fifteenth
Amendment” (McClenaghan 272). This idea of gerrymandering limits too many blacks
from voting in one area which could determine the candidate of the party that wins. The
idea of gerrymandering has the same effect as the goals of literacy tests and the
grandfather clause, which tried to make it harder for certain blacks and minorities to vote.
It is a reinforcement of those former discriminatory acts but it prevents the visibility of
racial discrimination in America.yet it is still present. This shows that racial
discrimination will never fully be ignored and even though it isn't as noticeably present,
it still exists in America. It does show that it has improved over the years and it does
show that people know how to deal with it more easily today; yet it is still there, maybe
just not as visible as it was before.
In relevance to the Brown v. the Board of Education case, schools have been
integrated, yet only to a certain extent. For example, public schools consist of both black
children and white children; however, a majority of private Catholic schools are white
children. On the other hand, there are certain schools that are mostly blacks. Even in
certain areas of the United States, there are a majority of a particular race. It deals in part
with the amount of money and education that are available to them. For example, most
private Catholic schools are predominantly whites because white families have better
opportunities to afford private school education for their children. On the other hand,
black families have lesser opportunities for their children to receive private school
educations. On the other hand, there have been advantages of blacks over whites due to
specific factors. For example, professional basketball teams and other sports teams are
predominantly black males due to the fact that blacks have better opportunities for sport
playing than do white males.
This shows that racial discrimination still exists to a certain degree in America
today. Blacks might not be seen as slaves, yet they are inferior in some ways to white
and whites can also be seen as inferior to blacks. It is not so much an issue of
discrimination, yet it is more an issue of inequality. Inequality and to some degree
hostility between blacks and whites has still not completely vanished in America.
1. Dershowitz, Alan M. America on Trial. New York: Warner Books, 2004.
2. Morin, Isobel V. Women Who Reformed Politics. Minneapolis: The Oliver Press, Inc., 1994.
3. Knappman, Edward W. Great American Trials. New England: Visible Ink Press, 1994.
4. McClenaghan, William A. American Government. Massachusetts: Mary Magruder Smith, 2001.