From: 'Brown vs the Board of Education turned 65-years-old' by Stefan Roots, Chester Matters paper Issue 10 June 27, 2019
My parent’s generation lived through the beginning of the famous court case known as Brown versus the Board of Education. Most people are familiar with the name but know little about what the bill attempted to accomplish. This article summarizes the history of the Brown decision and the degree to which it’s been effective.
The Brown decision relates to our educational standing in the world today. This country finds it difficult to deliver a separate but equal public education system. The battles today are not only about school funding, but also with vouchers, charter schools, segregated housing, and a vast gap between the best performing school districts and the worst.
Once upon a time in America there was slavery. When enslaved people became legally freed after the Civil War in the 1860s, the short period called Reconstruction became a time for African Americans to serve as a free group while trying to get their footing in the new American society. Reconstruction, while promising, was something that was fought culturally as well as legislatively in the south because whites refused to accept blacks to be their equal in law or society.
The 14th amendment ratified in 1868 went right at it declaring everybody born in the United States is a citizen who has equal protection before the law. The 14th amendment tried its best to see if we could turn a very white supremacist government into one that would treat its citizen’s equitably. It didn’t work out and the whites negotiated an artificial end to Reconstruction (1877) that unleashed some bad circumstances for blacks in certain areas of the country.
In 1896 the Plessy vs. Ferguson tested the 14th amendment
Mr. Homer Plessy bought a train ticket. The 14th amendment says that as an American citizen using public facilities and have duly entered into a contract to use these facilities (his train ticket), Mr. Plessy should be expected to be treated just like everyone else on that train. He attempted to sit in a white only car and was denied that seat. The case went to the Supreme Court where they ruled that if you’re riding through Louisiana, they reserve the right to treat you like they treat black folk in Louisiana, which was inequitably.
From that case we get the concept of separate but equal
Separate but equal is known as its trade name, Jim Crow. These were laws that saw the enshrinement of separate and very much unequal facilities. The south said we don’t have to interact with y’all, not just in your interactions with formal institutions, but at lunch counters, water fountains, bathrooms, telephone booths, cemeteries, and anything else we deem fit.
When it came to spreading tax dollars around, separate but equal became expensive to the states. It cost a lot of money to build a separate facility for both blacks and whites. When given a choice, the black one was always inferior to the white one.
Separating education is one of those expenses. The American government is charged to provide education for its people, but thanks to the 10th amendment, every state sets their own education guidelines. That’s why we constantly have battles over curriculum, textbooks, and teacher standards from state to state, even today.
There weren’t many states rushing out spending state money on schools for blacks. And for those who did, the public schools were not up to par with the white schools. The severity of the separation was so intense, some counties didn’t have high schools for blacks at all until the 1930s and 40s.
Through 1950, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund brought cases against southern governments who were incapable, or unwilling, of meeting the standards of Plessy. They then bundled up the cases of five states – Delaware, Virginia, Kansas, South Carolina, and Washington D.C. – into one case in 1952 which became the famous Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka KS.
Oliver Brown filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of his daughter Linda Brown against the BOE of Topeka in 1951 because she was denied entry into that district’s all white elementary school. This was a case about proximity. There was a school that was closer to her home that her dad attempted to enroll her and was denied. He was told she would have to go to a school that was meant for black children. But that school was lacking facilities and not equipped to educate her. Upon the denial, this is what Brown v BOE comes from. It became the test case.
Between 1952 and 1954, states begun fixing up some of the black schools to make an appearance they were going to spend the necessary money to bring black schools up to par in an effort to get attorney Thurgood Marshall to withdraw the NAACP Legal Defense Fund case from the Supreme Court.
In 1953, Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred Vinson felt the Plessy ruling should stand and states should be given the chance to bring black schools up to par, but desegregation was not the answer. He felt separate but equal could work. He passed away in 1953 before a ruling on Brown v BOE and President Eisenhower appointed a new chief justice, Earl Warren.
Warren orchestrated a decision that reviewed the purpose and intent of the 14th amendment and also ensured none of his justices come up on the wrong side of history by voting against Brown v BOE.
Leading up to the decision, the states knew things were not going to go their way. Mississippi and Louisiana shut down their public schools. Georgia channeled their public school state funds to private schools.
On May 17, 1954, Chief Justice Warren orchestrated a unanimous verdict that ultimately overturned Plessy v Ferguson.
In the decision, Warren wrote…
In the field of public education, the doctrine of separate but equal has no place as segregated schools are inherently unequal. As a result, the court ruled that plaintiffs were being deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th amendment.
Even though we’re talking about schools, this was the first domino to fall to undo over a century of unrest over how our country treats African Americans who have a free condition.
A second case, known as Brown Part 2, came down on May 31, 1955 saying desegregation must happen with all deliberate speed and remanding all future challenges to this decision to lower courts and jurisdictions to decide how best to implement this new decision. That’s when the states like Mississippi and South Carolina started to yell it’s unconstitutional.
Between Brown 1 and 2, racial violence in America ratcheted up. Emmitt Till was murdered in 1955. The number of blacks registered to vote decreased by two-thirds thanks to violence to keep blacks from voting in state elections because the states were positioned to speak against the Supreme Court. South Carolina wanted to succeed from the country all together. These efforts went forth because they didn’t want to adhere to the guidelines of Brown v BOE.
School districts started to shut down. Little Rock shut down public schools and gave tax credit to people who donated to an education fund to fund private schools. Segregation academies popped up when school districts shut down or when they anticipated their districts were to be desegregated. These were private schools with criteria set to exclude students they didn’t want there. Because it’s a private entity it was okay to say, no blacks allowed.
Ironically, poor whites got caught up when their children who attended public schools found their schools closing, too, so scholarships were offered for many of them to attend private schools.
In 1962, 8-years after Brown v BOE, Meredith v Mississippi took the Brown idea and applied it to public universities. This was not peaceful.
A former serviceman in the U.S. Air Force, James Meredith applied and was accepted to the University of Mississippi in 1962, but his admission was revoked when the registrar learned of his race. A federal court ordered “Ole Miss” to admit him, but when he tried to register on September 20, 1962, he found the entrance to the office blocked by Mississippi Governor Ross Barnett. He won his case but it caused a riot on campus. Meredith, who was a transfer student from all-black Jackson State College, graduated with a degree in political science in 1963.
In 1964, 10-years after Brown v BOE, the Supreme Court ruled on another set of cases intended to desegregate schools.
Brown, Meredith, Brown 2, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, all led to the civil rights act of 1964, the voting rights act of 1965 and the housing rights act of 1968.
Brown in modern times looks reminiscent of the energy leading today’s department of education as a strong advocate of school choice, voucher programs, and education freedom scholarships with their policies that move public school funding to fund private education. Local jurisdictions are sending funding to families who home school which all people can participate in but it’s most popular with families who have a partner who doesn’t have to work and can facilitate the studies. These are usually not the families with lower incomes.
Parents want to invest in the best opportunity for their child to get educated. Yet, these innovative education programs, like private schools, cyber school, charters, etc., prefer to not have interference from local jurisdictions and its bureaucracy. However, without that bureaucracy, you lack the checks or balances on what information is being delivered to your child. The standard education standards become diluted and can vary greatly from school to school, region to region. And, when you get rid of the checks, you can dictate who attends your school or not.
The decades long fight challenging the Brown v BOE decision has the United States behind the world in industry, technology, clean energy, telecom, engineering, just because white parents don’t want their children going to school with black kids. As much as the opposition targeted black students, so many others were swept in.
Not even the highest court in our land can save the American education system. In the 65-years since Brown v BOE there are still segregated school; schools offering grossly unequal education; some school with WiFi and some not, some schools with kids lucky enough to have cell phones hope to learn something on YouTube. Some schools have libraries, science labs, and multimedia centers, and advance placement courses, while many other schools are full of asbestos, broken HVAC systems, lead in the water fountains, and rats & roaches.
America is comfortable disenfranchising millions of a basic education and continuing to fall way behind many countries in academic achievement. Just attend a graduation ceremony at our nation’s best universities and you’ll see an astounding number of people from outside of our country snatching up diplomas and advance degrees while millions of Americans never have a chance to even get admitted into those same schools.
Brown v. The Board of Education gave the United States a great opportunity to change course. It continues to be obvious, we don’t want to.
Brown vs. Board of Education BONUS COVERAGE
From the Wall Street Journal article ‘The South’s Economy Is Falling Behind: All of a Sudden the Money Stops Flowing’:
‘And the South spent less, especially on education: an average of $1,869 per student in 2009 dollars, in 1960, compared with $2,741 nationwide, according to the Education Department. In part, this reflected the long shadow of slavery. In the Jim Crow era white taxpayers and politicians resisted spending that benefited blacks, according to historians.
Many economists say the most effective way for the South to regain its momentum would be to invest more in education, which would over time create a more skilled workforce to attract employers.’
I had found figures indicating a 3:1 spending ratio in Southern states on white students versus black students during the years leading up to the Brown decisions. I’m sure this has a lot to do with the near $1000 average spending gap between the South and nationwide listed in the WSJ article.
The fight against Brown v BoE is still going on in the courts of New Jersey
‘Talks on segregated N.J. schools break down’ is the name of an article from Inquirer.com proving the Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court ruling is not settled law and could be challenged across America if parents and communities wanted to put up that fight. New Jersey is going for it…
The New Jersey lawsuit alleges that the state has been “complicit” in creating and perpetuating “one of the most segregated public school systems in the nation,” because it requires “with very limited exceptions” students to attend public schools in the towns where
Doesn’t that sound familiar? When’s the last time a student from Chester attended Penncrest, Ridley, Strath Haven, or Radnor? Why haven’t they? Because a parent risks being arrested for ‘stealing education.’ That’s an actual charge in some places. It may have a different name around here but it’s against the law to try to send a student to a better school outside of the school district which she lives.
While the total of black and Latino New Jersey students is nearly equal to the white total statewide, most black and Latino students attend schools that are largely nonwhite, the suit says, and a growing number of students attend schools that are 99 percent nonwhite.
With stats like this, it’s kinda hard to dispute segregated schools exist.
Nationally, the percentage of public schools that are over 90 percent nonwhite has tripled since 1988, to 18.2 percent in 2016, according to a report this month by UCLA and Penn State professors.
Therefore, Brown vs. Board of Education don’t mean squat. The trends toward segregating schools has never been more pronounced. It’s the direction the country have decided it wants to go.
The suit also alleges that “an alarming number” of black and Latino students are being denied a thorough and efficient education — another requirement of the state constitution — “because educational opportunity is … undermined for students in schools that are often characterized by intense poverty and social isolation.”
The NJ suit asks the court to stop the state from continuing to assign students to schools solely based on municipal boundaries, and to order the legislature and the Department of Education to come up with a new methodology. It suggests several options, including inter-district transfer plans, the creation of magnet schools that would draw from multiple districts, and a system that would allow families to rank school choices, then assign them based on preference as well as diversity goals.
Raise you hand if you think this approach should have been tried many years ago, or at least after the Brown decision?
Let’s be clear. How much longer can this country miseducate the rising majority of its people and still expect to be a world power? If all it takes is to balance out the education offerings to a larger segment of young people, isn’t it likely there’d be more productive citizens making meaningful contributions in medicine, technology, education, science, law, world affairs, warfare, agriculture, media, theology, and so on?
There’s still a lot of people who don’t want black, white, Hispanic, and Asian children in the same classroom. Makes you wonder who all these intelligent people are who allow segregated schools to persist. Any clue?