Desegregation from Brown to Alexander: An Exploration of Supreme Court Strategies

By Stephen L. Wasby; Anthony A. D'Amato et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

Introduction: The Supreme Court and Strategy

THAT the Supreme Court initiated a social revolution in race relations in 1954 is beyond debate. During the 1940s there had been some forward movement on civil rights, particularly by President Harry Truman, and the 1948 split in the Democratic party over a civil rights plank indicated increasing activity. Yet, not very much had happened when President Eisenhower took office. In the midst of his complacent administration, the Court issued its famous decision in Brown v. Board of Education* that "separate" education for blacks and whites in elementary and secondary schools was not "equal" education under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. A year later the Court held that the schools must desegregate "with all deliberate speed." The modern era in civil rights in this country had begun, ninety long years after the Civil War.

No reasonable observer can claim that the Brown decision was a success in the area of elementary and secondary school education. Certainly, it was not an immediate success; ten years elapsed after the Brown implementation decision with almost nothing happening in much of the South. The pace of southern desegregation accelerated only as a result of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which provided for cutting off funds to government agencies that discriminated, and as a result of the HEW Desegregation Guidelines which followed the act. To be sure, Brown had helped create the tone which allowed the Civil Rights Act to be passed, but it was the act and the guidelines, far more than Brown, itself, which produced desegregation. An entire generation of black students went through school and became adults before the Supreme Court made clear in its 1969 ruling in Alexander v. Holmes County that there had to be an end

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*
Where the name of a case is indicated in the text, no citation will be provided in a note; the citations for all the cases are available in the Table of Cases Cited at the end of the volume.

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