The Continuing Spirit of the Brown Decision of the Supreme Court

By Willie, Charles V. | Negro Educational Review, January 2005 | Go to article overview

The Continuing Spirit of the Brown Decision of the Supreme Court


Willie, Charles V., Negro Educational Review


Richard Kluger, author of Simple Justice (1975), is correct in stating that Brown deserves "a high place in the literature of liberty" (Kluger 1975: X). Historian John Hope Franklin has written that "Perhaps no public question in the United States in the twentieth century aroused more interest at home and abroad than the debate about the constitutionality of segregated public schools" (Franklin 1974: 421).

Brown, indeed, became both an exhilarating and a troubling experience for citizens of a nation-state whose government is guided by a Constitution. The Declaration of Independence, adopted unanimously July 4, 1776 by the second Continental Congress, declared that "all...are created equal." And the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States ratified in 1789 indicated that this nation was founded "to create a more perfect union," "to establish justice...[and] to promote the general welfare..." (Harvard Classics 1938: 150-155). And the Fourteenth Amendment proscribes all state-imposed discrimination against any citizen of the United States. Brown was exhilarating to citizens of this nation who recognized it as a way of achieving these goals mentioned above. Brown was troubling to citizens who classified it as judicial activism that ignored the authority of the legislative and executive branches of government. They pointed out that the Constitution empowered three separate but interdependent units of government to serve as checks and balances on each unit (Harvard Classics 1938: 180-198).

Actually, the Brown v. Board of Education decision of the U.S. Supreme Court descended upon this nation as a way of checking the pervasive injustice rendered by public educational institutions on people of color, particularly African Americans. The injustices resulted from laws, regulations and other public policies promulgated or facilitated by actions of legislative and executive branches of government. Thus, Brown was a legitimate limitation on discriminatory activities facilitated by policies of government that violated the Constitution.

In 1896, the Supreme Court in its Plessy vs. Ferguson decision permitted public agencies to separate people of different races, if the separate accommodations were equal. In the Brown decision, the Court rejected the Plessy opinion because the segregated public accommodations for black people and white people were unequal. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored people (NAACP) fashioned a litigation strategy beginning in 1938 designed to demonstrate in courts of law that separate educational facilities and policies in local communities for black and white populations were never equal. The Brown decision in 1954 was the outcome of several court cases argued by NAACP lawyers.

I, personally, experienced the inequality of secondary schools in Dallas, Texas, the city of my birth where I grew up. Before 1940, all blacks in this big city attended one high school, The Booker T. Washington High School located in North Dallas. From East Dallas, West Dallas, and South Dallas came black students to matriculate in this single high school reserved exclusively for them. Parenthetically, may I say, the black students used public transportation to go to and from Booker T. Washington High School; and the price for this transportation to maintain segregation was assumed by black students and their parents. In effect, we were forced to cooperate in our own oppression. There is a limit to the capacity of any school, including a segregated school for black people, to accommodate one more student. Booker T. Washington High School was so crowded that it had to operate in double sessions, half of the student body attending school in the morning and half attending in the afternoon.

Thus, the Dallas Independent School District decided to erect a new high school in South Dallas for black students. Students like me who lived in Oak Cliff in the western sector of Dallas were reassigned to the new school in South Dallas. …

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