Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Reflections on the Brown Decision after Fifty Years

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Reflections on the Brown Decision after Fifty Years

Article excerpt

ON MAY 17, 1954, THE U.S. SUPREME COURT RULED IN BROWN V. BOARD of Education of Topeka that separate educational facilities for blacks and whites were "inherently unequal." The unanimous opinion, delivered by Chief Justice Earl Warren, overturned the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case on the grounds that so-called separate but equal facilities were in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision was based in part, however, on reasoning drawn from psychology, the observation that such facilities generated "a feeling of inferiority" among black children. The Court the following year (May 31, 1955) ordered that steps be taken to desegregate the schools, beginning immediately, but despite the blockbuster nature of the Brown decision, the justices commanded only that the process move "with all deliberate speed," a phrase filled with ambiguity. White southerners mounted every defense they could imagine against meaningful change in race relations. Hence more than a decade passed before most southern schools really began to attempt to conform to the law of the land. None of the major actors who had instituted the case on behalf of Linda Brown, the black child denied admission to a more conveniently located "white" school in Topeka, Kansas, and none of those who opposed the case, could have foreseen the full influence of the decision that ensued, nor the multitudinous ways that the decision ultimately affected attitudes and practices far removed from the issue of public schools.

On the fiftieth anniversary of what may well be the most famous Supreme Court decision in the nation's history, the Journal of Southern History asked seven historians to reflect on the case from a variety of perspectives, attempting to put the decision in historical context and contemplating its larger legal, political, cultural, and human consequences. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.