Events Leading to the Brown v. Board of Education Decision, 1954

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Events Leading to the Brown v. Board of Education Decision, 1954

1865 -- Black Codes


Significance: With the end of the Civil War and aftermath of slavery, whites create Black Codes to regulate race relations in legal, economic, and social realms. General trend is toward segregation.

 1868 -- The 14th Amendment to the Constitution is ratified.


Significance: Prevents states from denying equal protection of the law for citizens.

 1875 -- Civil Rights Act of 1875

In March, Congress passed this law that prohibited discrimination in inns, theaters, and other places of public accommodation. It was the last federal civil rights act passed until 1957.

Significance: Discrimination in places of public accommodation was prohibited.


1883 -- Civil Rights Cases

The Supreme Court overturned the Civil Rights Act of 1875, and declared that the Fourteenth Amendment does not prohibit discrimination by private individuals or businesses.


1887 -- Jim Crow



 1896 – Plessy v. Ferguson



1909 -- National Association for the Advancement of Colored People founded

W.E.B. DuBois, Ida Wells-Barnett, Mary White Ovington, and others founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Their mission was to eliminate lynching, and to fight racial and social injustice, primarily through legal action.

Significance: The NAACP became the primary tool for the legal attack on segregation, eventually trying the Brown v. Board of Education case.
  1935 --NAACP begins challenging segregation

Significance: Charles Hamilton Houston of the NAACP developed a legal strategy that would eventually lead to victory over segregation in the nation’s schools through the Brown v. Board of Education case.


1939 --Thurgood Marshall named special counsel of the NAACP

Significance: Thurgood Marshall, Houston’s protégé would eventually lead counsel in the Brown v. Board of Education case.


 1948 -- Sipuel v. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma

A unanimous Supreme Court held that Lois Ada Sipuel could not be denied entrance to a state law school solely because of her race.

Significance: The Court ruled denial of entrance to a state law school solely on the basis of race unconstitutional.


1949 -- Briggs et al. v. Elliott et al.

Thurgood Marshall and NAACP officials met with Black residents of Clarendon County, SC. They decided that the NAACP would launch a test case against segregation in public schools if at least 20 plaintiffs could be found. By November, Harry Briggs and 19 other plaintiffs were assembled, and the NAACP filed a class action lawsuit against the Clarendon County School Board.

Significance: Briggs v. Elliott became one of the cases consolidated by the Supreme Court into Brown v. Board of Education.


1950 -- Sweatt v. Painter

The Supreme Court held that the University of Texas Law School must admit a Black student, Herman Sweatt. The University of Texas Law School was far superior in its offerings and resources to the separate Black law school, which had been hastily established in a downtown basement.

Significance: The Supreme Court held that Texas failed to provide separate but equal education, prefiguring the future opinion in Brown that "separate but equal is inherently unequal."

1950 -- McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents

The Supreme Court invalidated the University of Oklahoma's requirement that a Black student, admitted to a graduate program unavailable to him at the state's Black school, sit in separate sections of or in spaces adjacent to the classroom, library, and cafeteria.

Significance: The Supreme Court held that these restrictions were unconstitutional because it interfered with his "ability to study, to engage in discussions, and exchange views with other students, and, in general, to learn his profession."
 1950 -- Bolling v. Sharpe

This was a challenge to the denial of enrollment for a group of Black students in an all white junior high school in Washington, D.C.

Significance: The Bolling case became one of the consolidated Brown cases. The U.S. Supreme Court would eventually file a separate opinion on Bolling because the 14th Amendment was not applicable in Washington, D.C.
1951 -- Brown v. Board of Education

Significance: In August, the lower court unanimously held in the Brown v. Board of Education case that "no willful, intentional or substantial discrimination" existed in Topeka’s schools. The lower court found that the physical facilities in White and Black schools were comparable and that the lower court’s decisions in Sweatt v. Painter and McLaurin only applied to graduate education.

1952 - The Bundling of the Brown v. Board Cases

Significance: The Supreme Court agreed to hear five school desegregation cases collectively, including Briggs, Brown, and Bolling. This grouping was significant because it showed school segregation as a national issue, not just a southern one.


 1954 -- Brown v. Board of Education and Bolling v. Sharpe

The Court overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, declaring that racial segregation in public schools violated the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment. That same day, the Court held that racial segregation in the District of Columbia public schools violated the Due Process clause of the 5th Amendment in Bolling v. Sharpe.

Significance: The Court ruled that state-sanctioned segregation of public schools was a violation of the 14th Amendment and unconstitutional. As a result, the District of Columbia and some school districts in the border states began to desegregate their schools voluntarily. Some southern states declared the Court's decision to be "null, void, and no effect." Various southern legislatures passed laws designed to thwart desegregation.
 1955 -- Brown II

The Supreme Court ordered that desegregation occur with "all deliberate speed."

Significance: Brown II was intended to work out the mechanics of desegregation. Due to the vagueness of the term "all deliberate speed," many states were able to stall the Court’s order to desegregate their schools. The legal and social obstacles that southern states put in place and encouraged, in their effort to thwart integration, served as a catalyst for the student protests that launched the civil rights movement.

Source: “Timeline of Events Leading to the Brown v. Board of Education Decision, 1954.” The National Archives. 14 March 2011 >.

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