Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483; 74 S. Ct. 686; 98 L.Ed. 873 (1954)

Facts—A series of cases went to the Supreme Court from the states of Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware. Since all of the cases involved the same basic problem—African American minors, through their legal representatives, seeking the aid of the courts in obtaining admission to the public schools of their respective communities on a non-segregated basis—all were determined by one decision of the Court. The Kansas case became the nominal leading case. In the various states, the black children were of elementary or high school age or both. Segregation requirements were on a statutory and state constitutional basis except in Kansas where only statutory provisions were involved.

Question—Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities?


ReasonsC.J. Warren (9–0). Although the intentions of the authors of the Fourteenth Amendment regarding segregation were not altogether clear, the issue of segregation in schools needed to be decided not in the light of the nineteenth century but in light of the modern world in which education had significantly expanded and was generally considered essential for success in life. Intangible factors involved in the separation of students of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race need very serious consideration. Such segregation of white and black children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the black children, an impact that is greater when it has the sanction of law. It “generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.  We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Note—This was the historic school desegregation case that reversed the “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896). In a companion case, Bolling v. Sharpe, the Court decided that desegregation would also apply in the District of Columbia.

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