Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

Observing the Fiftieth Anniversary of the 1954 United States Supreme Court School Desegregation Decision in Brown V the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas

Academic journal article Negro Educational Review

Observing the Fiftieth Anniversary of the 1954 United States Supreme Court School Desegregation Decision in Brown V the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas

Article excerpt

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Brown v the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas U. S. Supreme Court public school desegregation decision on (hereafter the Brown Decision), I was tempted to refer to it as a "celebration of the Golden Anniversary of the legal end to racial segregation in the public schools of the United States." When the decision was rendered, on May 17, 1954, I was so elated that I was confident that 50 years later public school racial desegregation would be a thing of the past and a truly "golden celebration" would be highly appropriate. And while I still am convinced that the Brown Decision was a necessary and fundamental prerequisite for human dignity, race relations, personal/social adjustment, equal educational access, and progress toward the American Ideal, events that have emerged and continuing efforts to obscure, evade, emasculate, and override the Decision, demand that we have an "observance" rather than a "celebration" in its "golden" year.


There can be no doubt that the Brown Decision was one of the Court's most important, judicially ground-breaking, precedent-setting ones, with far-reaching impacts on the U. S. Congress, lower federal and state courts, state legislatures, the Presidency, federal agencies, private corporations and businesses, and of course, all levels of public and federally assisted educational institutions. To put all of this into proper perspective, I think that it is imperative that we examine, at least briefly, philosophies, societal patterns and court rulings that established, regulated, and limited the roles, status, and behavior of Negroes (blacks) in the United States, prior to the Brown ruling.

It is generally accepted that Negro slavery was introduced into the United States colonies at Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. This slavery, though, was not confined to the southern and border states but reached visible and significant numerical levels as far north as New York City (Singer, 2003). There is also documented evidence that some Negroes (blacks) served as indentured servants, but it has been clearly shown that the overwhelming majority of Negroes brought from Africa to the colonies from the early 1600s to the 1800s were held as property, and existed in total involuntary servitude - for approximately two and a half centuries.


The most notable efforts to modify the slave system and upgrade the status of Negroes was the Dred Scott lawsuits, brought to establish himself and his family as free (non-slave) persons. Dred Scott was born a slave and was owned by Peter Blow in St. Louis, Missouri. Scott subsequently had several owners/masters. From 1830 to 1842 Scott, who married Harriet Robinson, also a slave, spent time in Illinois and Wisconsin, both non-slave states, in service to his then owner Dr. John Emerson, a military surgeon. In 1842 the Scott family returned to St. Louis with Dr. Emerson and his wife, and Emerson died in 1843.

In 1846, the Scotts sued Mrs. Emerson for their freedom in the St. Louis Circuit Court and although the Court ruled against them, in 1847 it did permit them to refile their lawsuit. In 1850, the jury in the second trial decided that the Scotts should be free because of their years of residence in the non-slave territories of Wisconsin and Illinois. Mrs. Emerson then appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court in 1852 which overturned the Circuit decision and returned the Scotts to slavery.

In 1853-54, lawyers on Scott's behalf filed suit in the U. S. Federal Court in St. Louis that also ruled against Scott. In 1856-57 the Scott case was appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court (case now named Scott ν Sanford). It was the decision of the Court that Scott must remain a slave not a citizen, and therefore as personal property was not eligible to bring suit in federal court, and that he had never been free. (See: the Washington University Libraries and the Missouri State Archives).

In March of 1857, U. …

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