Social Scientists for Social Justice: Making the Case against Segregation

Social Scientists for Social Justice: Making the Case against Segregation

Social Scientists for Social Justice: Making the Case against Segregation

Social Scientists for Social Justice: Making the Case against Segregation

Synopsis

In one of the twentieth century's landmark Supreme Court cases, Brown v. Board of Education, social scientists such as Kenneth Clark helped to convince the Supreme Court Justices of the debilitating psychological effects of racism and segregation. John P. Jackson, Jr., examines the well-known studies used in support of Brown, such as Clark's famous "doll tests," as well as decades of research on race which lead up to the case. Jackson reveals the struggles of social scientists in their effort to impact American law and policy on race and poverty and demonstrates that without these scientists, who brought their talents to bear on the most pressing issues of the day, we wouldn't enjoy the legal protections against discrimination we may now take for granted. For anyone interested in the history and legacy of Brown v. Board of Education, this is an essential book.

Excerpt

In 1951, when the attorneys of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People–Legal Defense and Education Fund (NAACP-LDEF) began litigation to desegregate primary and secondary schools in the United States, they called on social scientists for help. Organized by social psychologist Kenneth B. Clark, social scientists testified at several trials and wrote briefs, submitted to the Supreme Court, arguing that segregation was psychologically damaging and that the desegregation process could be expected to proceed smoothly. In 1954, when the Supreme Court found segregation in schools unconstitutional in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, Chief Justice Earl Warren, writing for the unanimous Court, cited social-scientific evidence as one basis for the Court’s opinion. The 1954 decision delayed any order regarding remedy, and social scientists continued to work with the NAACP-LDEF through 1955, when the Supreme Court handed down Brown II, ordering desegregation with “all deliberate speed.”

The year 1979 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first Brown decision, and the American Psychological Association asked some of the psychologists involved with the NAACP-LDEF to speak on their experiences in the Brown campaign as well as on their hopes for the future. Yet, far from celebrating their involvement with Brown, the speakers were defensive about their actions. M. Brewster Smith, who had served as an expert witness and had signed the Social Science Statement, complained, “It is hinted in various quarters and said openly in others that the social science testimony on the cases culminating in Brown v. Board of Education was tendentious and ungrounded.” Against these charges, Isidor Chein, perhaps Kenneth B. Clark’s closest confidant during the Brown decision, declared: “Let me state at the outset that I know of no serious reason for retracting anything that was said in the so-called Social Science Brief submitted in Brown v. Board of . . .

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