The Civil Rights Movement was at hit the highest point from 1955-1965. For this Civil Rights Movement, Congress enacted several laws to protect fundamental rights and liberties explicitly such as the Civil Rights Act 1964 and the Voting Rights Act 1965 try to end discrimination between black and white. The Civil Rights Movements for example Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955), student-led sit-ins, freedom to ride, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, March on Washington (1963) led brought significant changes in American life. Few landmark cases where the United States Supreme Court enhance civil rights by overruling previous law.
In Brown v. Board of Education1, United States Supreme Court overruled Plessy v. Ferguson. In the Brown case, the United States Supreme Court declared that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.
Plessy v. Ferguson
After the end of the American Civil War, in the period of reconstruction, the federal government had the opportunity to provide some equal civil rights and protection for blacks. But the government passed several laws which demonstrated racism for example Jim Crow laws which prohibited blacks from using similar public accommodations as whites. the Civil Rights Cases (1883) and the Fourteenth Amendment had the only vertical effect that means it applied only against governments as a result individuals could not able to take any step against another individual that means it had no horizontal effect. So discrimination was well protected.
In Plessy v. Ferguson2, the United States Supreme Court upholding the constitutional racial segregation in public accommodation, under the separate but equal doctrine. It was the unanimous decision of judges. This doctrine remained standard in U.S. law until 1954. As a consequence, this case helped strengthen the legal foundation for the doctrine of separate but equal and the thought that segregation based on classifications was legal providing facilities were of equal quality.
Brown v. Board of Education
Even though all the physical facilities and another tangible aspect of white and Black schools may be equal, segregation of white and Black children in the public schools of United State solely on the basis of race, pursuant to state laws requiring or permitting such segregation, denies to Black children the equal protection of the fundamental laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. In this case, the plaintiff was 13 Topeka parents’ suits on behalf of 20 children.
The plaintiffs had been recruited by the leadership of the Topeka NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). They argued that the school reverses its policy of racial segregation and the Topeka Board of Education under an 1879 Kansas law, which permitted to maintain separate elementary school facilities for white and black. As directed by the NAACP leadership, all the parents attempted to enroll their children in the closest school in the fall of 1951. However, they were each refused enrollment and suggested to the segregated schools.
The Brown v. Board of Education was heard before the Supreme Court combined five cases these were Brown itself, Briggs v. Elliott, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Gebhart v. Belton, and Bolling v. Sharpe. All were NAACP-sponsored cases. In Brown, the Court concluded that in the field of public education, the separate but equal doctrine has no place.
As a result, the plaintiff won the case and the court ensure separate educational facilities are inherently unequal, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, and segregation violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. After the district court decision, the political climate in Topeka had changed in the election. Brown was a giant step forward for the civil rights movement. The Board of Education of Topeka began to end segregation in schools, integrating two attendance districts.
Aftermath and Social implications
Initially, not everyone accepted the Brown decision seriously. Virginia, In Virginia, Senator Harry organized the Massive Resistance movement, which included the closing of schools rather than desegregating. On the other hand, Florida’s response was mixed. Alabama Govt. refused to follow the Brown decision but George Wallace personally blocked the door to prevent the enrollment of two black students in Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama. Rehnquist argued that Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be reaffirmed.
He also argued that a majority may not deprive to maintain a minority’s constitutional right. Some aspects of the Brown judgment are still debated. Especially, in Missouri v. Jenkins (1995) Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that at the very least, Brown I has been misunderstood by the courts. Segregation was not unconstitutional as it might have caused psychological feelings of inferiority.
Some liberal authors also criticized the Brown case to argue that psychological criteria to find harm against segregated blacks was unnecessary. Some liberal authors also criticized the Brown case to argue that psychological criteria to find harm against segregated blacks was unnecessary (Hirabayashi v. United States3). In The Tempting of America, Robert Bork authorized the Brown decision as all are equal before the law. Since equality and segregation were mutually inconsistent so they should not be honored.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr
In order to discuss The Civil Rights Movement, it is necessary to consider the contribution of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 – 1968) who devoted his whole life to non-violent movement to protect rights and liberties. In 1964, Luther King has received the Nobel Peace Prize as the youngest person for his continuous efforts to end segregation and racial discrimination through civil disobedience, moral conversion, and other non-violent means.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Luther King fought to end racial segregation and sought separate public facilities for blacks and whites and discrimination against African Americans. He accomplished to increase public sympathy to reach his goals, and in many cases change to the law. He organized non-violent protests, by following Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals. In 1959 in his “The Measure of a Man” he answered the question of what is man. He said that all men are created equal by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.
It is true that judges, lawyers played a vital role but my opinion is that it was not the most significant role in the culminating Brown v. Board of Education decision. The legal struggle in the lawyers’ offices, courtrooms, and judges’ chambers was one of the important factors to find out the true fact and applied their discretion by using relevant law and law amendment. For example, Judge Motley played an imperative role in the Brown case. She researched questions concerning the power of Congress to outlaw segregated schools.
But these were the minor issue. Definitely, it was the result of the combined social struggles. Karl Marx & F. Engles (1948) in their ‘Communist Manifesto’ proclaimed that the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle. Starting from the primitive communal system to modern capitalism in every society there are two classes and they are the oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another.
This conflict carried on an uninterrupted open fight, a fight that each time ended either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large or in the common ruin of contending class. Black was always refused to get equal opportunity for several laws. Thomas Jefferson was a champion of universal education for all citizens, but in the culture, black slaves were not considered citizens. Race hatred and violence, segregation separate our communities. So the combination of social struggle played the most significant role in the culminating Brown v. Board of Education decision.
After Brown the situation has changed, now all school truly provides equal opportunity for Black and white. Some recent cases such as Briggs v. Elliott, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No, Tape v. Hurley, Court upheld the Brown decision and end racism to protect civil rights and liberties.
In Mendez v. Westminster School, District4 Chief Justice of the United States affirm the decision of Brown and said that separate but equal doctrine to be unconstitutional under the Amendment of the fourteenth Equal Protection Clause. The Brown case signaled the end of segregation in the United States. In the fiftieth anniversary of the ruling (May 2004), President George W. Bush spoke that the decision of the Brown v. Board of Education changed America for the better, and forever.
E. M. Waldo Jr. (2006) Brown v. Board of Education: a Brief History With Documents, 98th edition, St Martins Press, Boston, ISBN13: 9780312111526.
- 347 U.S. 483 (1954).
- 163 U.S. 537 (1896).
- 320 U.S. 81 (1943).
- 64 F. Supp 544 (C.D. Cal. 1947).