The NAACP's Legal Strategy against Segregated Education, 1925-1950

The NAACP's Legal Strategy against Segregated Education, 1925-1950

The NAACP's Legal Strategy against Segregated Education, 1925-1950

The NAACP's Legal Strategy against Segregated Education, 1925-1950

Excerpt

In 1896 the United States Supreme Court decided Plessy v. Ferguson. That case endorsed the idea that it was constitutionally permissible to maintain a regime of racial segregation if the services a state provided were equal. From the beginning black activists knew that "separate but equal" was a slogan that only thinly disguised the reality of the subordination of black to white. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded in 1909, took undermining the system of racial subordination as its goal from the outset. Because subordination was linked to segregation, and segregation to the legal doctrine of "separate but equal," it was natural for the NAACP to try to destroy the constitutional doctrine that Plessy established.

What follows is the story of the campaign conducted by the NAACP against segregated schools, from the inception of the campaign in the mid-I920s to its culmination in the early I950s, when the organization decided to pursue the litigation that goes under the name of Brown v. Board of Education. Some parts of the story have been told before, most notably by Richard Kluger. My narrative has a narrower scope than his, in regard to both the period of time covered and the subject matter discussed. It is informed by a concern for the constraints placed on the litigation strategy by organizational needs, and for the significance of the NAACP campaign as it applies to the theory and practice of public interest law in general. It is therefore an interpretation as well as a narrative of the events.

An introductory summary of the interpretation may assist in understanding what follows. The interpretation relies on the conception of litigation as a social process. By doing so, it helps bring into focus a number of otherwise disconnected aspects of the narrative, and allows one to . . .

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