The Brown v. Board of Education case began with the Topeka, Kansas, Board of Education’s decision to allow children of all races to attend the same schools.
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The Brown v. Board of Education case bones its roots back to the Topeka, Kansas public school system. In 1950, a nine-year-old African American girl named Linda Brown had to walk past an all-white elementary school to get to her black elementary school, which was over a mile away. The closest black high school was seven miles away from her home, so when she became a teenager, she had to ride a bus every day across town to attend class.
The case that started it all
The case that started it all began with the story of one little girl. In Topeka, Kansas, in the 1950s, a black third-grader named Linda Brown had to walk past an all-white elementary school every day on her way to class at the overcrowded, run-down all-black school she was forced to attend.
Linda’s father, Oliver Brown, tried unsuccessfully to get his daughter admitted to the white school. He then joined with other black families in filing a lawsuit against the Topeka Board of Education, claiming that racial segregation in public schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court of the United States.
The impact of the case
Brown v. Board of Education is one of the most important cases in U.S. Supreme Court history. The case overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine that had been established in Plessy v. Ferguson, another Supreme Court case from 1896. The “separate but equal” doctrine held that segregation was acceptable as long as the facilities for both whites and blacks were of equal quality.
The Brown decision changed all that, ruling that segregation itself was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. In the years since the decision was handed down, it has come to be seen as a key moment in the Civil Rights Movement, when the country began to move towards true equality for all its citizens, regardless of race.
The lasting legacy
Nowhere is the momentum for change felt more powerfully than in our schools. The year 1954 was a turning point in American history. That’s when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Brown v. Board of Education that “separate but equal” education was unconstitutional. The decision outlawed racial segregation in schools and other public places, and opened the door for integration and other civil rights advances.
The case began when the parents of black children in Topeka, Kansas, sued the local school district after their children were assigned to all-black schools far from their homes, while white children were bused to all-white schools closer to home. Under the “separate but equal” doctrine established by an earlier case, Plessy v. Ferguson, such segregation was legal as long as facilities for both blacks and whites were equal. But the plaintiffs argued that segregated schools were inherently unequal because they sent the message that black children were inferior to white children.
In its ruling, the court found that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” because they sent a message that black children were inferior to white children. The decision overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and led to increased pressure for integrating public facilities throughout the United States.