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The Continuing Search for Quality Education by African Americans: Fifty Years after Brown

Article excerpt

The 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled against required separation of the races in statesponsored institutions and ended apartheid in American education. That decision also led the way for ending segregation in public facilities and in private institutions not generally covered by the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. This decision did not end de facto racial segregation due to private choice of residential segregation. This special issue, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Brown, seeks to provide current readers of The Journal of Negro Education with an informed analysis of issues associated with race and education in America and a record for future readers with an interest in that period of America's past. We sought and achieved this task with the assistance of distinguished scholars on race and education in this country.

The quest for quality integrated education in America began before the end of slavery. In 1849, a Black family sued the City of Boston (Roberts v. City of Boston, 1849) to allow its daughter to attend a neighborhood White school rather than travel a much longer distance to attend the city's all-Black elementary school. The state High Court ruled against the Black family, and that decision was supported by the U.S. Supreme Court. This action, seeking desegregation of public education, occurred before the enactment of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The 14' Amendment applied the Bill of Rights (first 10 amendments to the Constitution) to the states and gave Blacks citizenship; moreover, Congress added an Equal Protection Clause to the 14th Amendment. The country, in general, obeyed the laws of the land until 1896 when the U.S. Supreme Court, in Plessy v. Ferguson, held that states may satisfy the Equal Protection Clause of the 14* Amendment by providing the different races with "separate but equal" facilities. Plessy involved public transportation but was generally applied to most areas of public life involving race. Thereafter, all of the southern states and some border states enacted laws making it illegal for Black and White children to attend the same school.

The first test of Plessy in education occurred in the State of Mississippi in 1927 (Gong Lum v. Rice) when a Chinese family sought relief from having its child attend Black schools and asked the Court to allow the child to attend White schools. The -Mississippi Court applied the Plessy decision to all non-Whites, and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed. However, beginning in the late 1930s, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) began legal action to desegregate public graduate education in the southern states. Its first, efforts involved getting Black students admitted to White graduate and professional schools where none existed for Black students in Black colleges and universities. The NAACP won several cases, but the case with the most meaning for the future Brown decision was Sweatt v. Painter (1950). In this case, a Black student applied to the University of Texas Law School, and the state responded by establishing a Black Law School at all-Black Texas Southern University. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such a law school could not be the equal of the University of Texas Law School; therefore, the Court failed the "separate but equal" test and ordered the Black student admitted to the University of Texas Law School. Four years later, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Brown, ruled that laws requiring racially separate schools were unconstitutional.

The Brown decision of 1954 did not immediately end racially segregated schools. The desegregation of public education, en mass, occurred almost two decades later; and, in 2001, the U. …