|Brown versus Board of Topeka: the case
The Integrationist Arguments
Lawyers for the plaintiffs [those taking the legal action] relied on legal arguments, historical evidence, and psychological studies. This was there case:
In Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court had misinterpreted the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Equal protection of the laws did not allow for racial segregation.
The 14th Amendment allowed the government to prohibit any discriminatory State action based on race, including segregation in public schools.
The 14th Amendment did not specify whether the States would be allowed to establish segregated education.
Psychological testing demonstrated the harmful effects of segregation on the minds of African American children.
The Segregationist Arguments
The case for the defenders of segregation rested on four arguments:
The Constitution did not require white and African American children to attend the same schools.
Social separation of blacks and whites was a regional custom; the States should be left free to regulate their own social affairs.
Segregation was not harmful to black people.
Whites were making a good-faith effort to equalize the two educational systems. But because black children were still living with the effects of slavery, it would take some time before they were able to compete with white children in the same classroom.
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is the United States’ highest court for all cases and controversies arising under the Constitution or the law. As a guardian and interpreter of the Constitution, the Court has the power to invalidate legislation or Presidential orders. When the Court rules on a constitutional issue, only a constitutional amendment or a new ruling of the Court can change that judgment. Judges are appointed for life by the President.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education marked a turning point in the history of race relations in the United States. On May 17, 1954, the Court ended constitutional segregation by race. Equal opportunity in education became the law of the land. In the fall of 1953, Chief Justice Fred Vinson, who doubted the Court's authority to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson, died. President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren of California to Chief Justice. Under Warren's leadership, the Court unanimously [with everyone agreeing] overturned Plessy v. Ferguson in 1954. But to achieve unanimity, Warren assured some of the more cautious judges that the decision would not be implemented immediately. In 1955 the Court ordered, in what is now known as Brown II, that no timetable would be established for school desegregation. States, however, were to proceed with “all deliberate speed.” Despite the fact that many civil rights advocates regarded this as a setback, the original 1954 decision was regarded then and now as a shining moment in American history.