Brown v. Board of Education: Separate but Equal?

By Susan Dudley Gold | Go to book overview

SIX
A MOMENTOUS DECISION

AT 12:52 P.m. On MOnDaY, May 17, 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren began reading the Court's opinion in the Brown case. Alerted by the Court's press officer, reporters rushed to the courtroom where the justices and their clerks had gathered.

Well aware of the opinion's importance, the chief justice read the words that would change America. He began with a description of the cases that had been joined together to form Brown. As Warren detailed the cases and the role of the Fourteenth Amendment, reporters listened attentively, waiting impatiently to hear how the Court would rule on school segregation.

The plaintiffs, Warren read, claimed that segregated schools could not be made equal and should not be allowed. They based their claims on the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of [equal protection of the laws.]

Warren noted that the lawyers in the case had explored the history of the Fourteenth Amendment during rearguments. After a thorough study of the amendment, however, the Court concluded it could not base its decision on conditions that existed when the amendment was adopted in 1868. The study, he said, proved to be [inconclusive] as far as the Brown case was concerned.

Warren described the sad state of public education in the 1860s. The passage of the Fourteenth Amendment,

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