On May 17, of 1954, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren delivered the unanimous ruling of the Supreme Court in the pivotal civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The ruling established that “state-sanctioned segregation of public schools was a violation of the 14th amendment and was therefore unconstitutional”.
But what is the 14th Amendment? With the ratification of the 14th amendment in 1868, the amendment unequivocally “granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States—including formerly enslaved people—and guaranteed all citizens equal protection of the laws”. In simpler terms, the 14th amendment established that African-Americans must receive the same treatment of naturalized rights as their white counterparts. Repealing the flawed notion of “separate but equal”. A clause that had been previously weaponized for decades in order to institutionalize the repression and suppression of African-Americans in the United States.
On the surface level, Brown v. Board of Education can be candidly seen as a beautiful moment in American history, where African-American youth and society are able to be free at last in society, without the weights of suppressive and demoralizing legalized segregation. However, the context and historical effects of Brown v. Board of Education are just as, if not more important than the immediate ruling of the ever-relevant Supreme Court case.
Dating back to 1896, the “highest court in the land”, in the fateful Plessy v. Ferguson ruling established that the institutionalized system of segregation was constitutional. The controversy surrounding Plessy v. Ferguson was about a black man named Homer Plessy. Plessy was riding as a passenger on a train, and when told to move back to the cart designated for African-Americans, he refused. The small actions that Plessy took can be regarded as a foreshadowing of the formidable Civil Rights movement that took place in the 1900s, led in large part by Martin Luther King Jr. Plessy took a physical and figurative stand against the attempt to reassert white supremacy in the United States after the era of Reconstruction. Meaningful actions that should serve to inspire people in today’s society about taking action in the name of social justice. Despite Plessy’s efforts, the ruling was final, segregation and distinction by race were constitutional per the United States Supreme Court.
Brown v. Board of Education reversed this notion and created a domino chain of events that are today recognized as the progression of rights for African Americans and all minority groups in the United States. The ruling of Brown v. Board of Education undoubtedly served to energize the American civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s.
In Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, the question begged is whether we will allow “Unjust laws [to] exist; [be] content to obey them, or… endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or…”, take actionable steps to “transgress them at once”. Amidst the liberty stripping sting of police hoses, the hoarse barks of K-9s, and the unrelenting heat of the sun. The likes of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement responded to injustice.
To read more about the effects of Brown v. Board of Education, click here [coming soon]