The key to understanding social scientists’ involvement with the Brown litigation is their view of the social power of the law. If the social scientists had not believed in the power of the law to impose social stigmata or to create a new social climate, the NAACP-LDEF never would or could have enlisted their help.
In the five years after the end of World War II, the NAACP-LDEF developed their legal arguments against segregation. They whittled away at the Plessy precedent by attacking graduate school education. The 1950 graduate school victories of Sweatt and McLaurin had proclaimed that form of segregation unconstitutional on the basis of “intangible factors.” The next year, the NAACP-LDEF turned to social scientists to prove the existence of these intangible factors in elementary and secondary education. For the social scientists, the court cases provided just the avenue they needed to use their expertise in the fight against segregation. There was a body of literature that fit their needs and a group of social scientists to present that literature, because social scientists had also been building a case against segregation in the years after World War II.
Clark and his colleagues were interested in using their expertise as social scientists to engineer society to become more racially just. They had developed a body of research that argued that legal segregation was damaging and could be eliminated. Moreover, the research was conducted by a close-knit group who shared a commitment to social justice and a willingness to act on their commitments. Their interests converged with those of the NAACP-LDEF in the Brown campaign and were an outgrowth of the “retreat of scientific racism” of the 1930s.
In the interwar period, psychologists became interested in discovering ways to measure seemingly ineffable attitudes such as racial prejudice and the origins of racial identity. One reason for the growth of this activity was the development of new forms of measurement techniques that