Kansan Looks at Brown
Michael S. Mayer
This essay examines the school segregation cases of 1954 as a means of gaining an insight into the legal and political culture of the Great Plains. Not only did the lead case originate on the Great Plains, but people from the Great Plains played key roles at the national level in shaping the decision known as Brown v. Board of Education. Both Herbert Brownell, Dwight Eisenhower's attorney general, and Assistant Attorney General J. Lee Rankin, who argued Brown I before the Supreme Court, came from Nebraska. More important still, the president himself grew up in Kansas. The point is not so much that Eisenhower was representative, but his racial attitudes and his approach to government, formed in part on the Kansas plains, shaped his response to the school segregation cases. Thus, an examination of Eisenhower's response provides a glimpse into the prevalent racial attitudes as well as the legal and constitutional culture of the Great Plains.
In his memoirs, Eisenhower recalled that "since boyhood I had accepted without qualification the right to equality before the law of all citizens of this country, whatever their race or color or creed." 1 One might well