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Brown v. Board of Education
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, meaning that soon afterward white and black students would attend public schools side by side, with no administrative restrictions remaining on black students. The title of the Brown court case was Oliver L. Brown et al. v. The Board of Education of Topeka (Kansas) et.al., which was filed in federal district court in Kansas on Feb. 28, 1951, by Charles Bledsoe/NAACP of Topeka (Clark, Chein and Cook 497).
The number of plaintiffs affected by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling were 13 parents on behalf of 20 children. In summary, a black male, Oliver Brown, sued a Kansas school board on behalf of his daughter Linda who was in third grade, on the basis of racial discrimination in her schooling. Mr. Brown was aided chiefly by the Black organization NAACP's Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Other groups, including Jewish groups, aided Mr. Brown by filing amicus curiae, or "friend of the court," briefs. Oliver Brown lost the first case. His lawyers then appealed to the United States Supreme Court. There, Brown's case was combined with other similar civil-rights cases and Mr. Brown and the other plaintiffs then won their appeal.
The Jews were so important to the Brown decision that many have said that without Jews, the Brown decision would not have happened. The Brown case was initiated in Kansas by Jewish activist Esther Swirk Brown, who urged Oliver Brown to sue the Topeka school board. Swirk Brown also helped raise money for Mr. Brown's lawsuit. The legal pointman in the Brown case was also Jewish, NAACP/LDF lawyer Jack Greenberg. Mr. Greenberg wrote or edited at least two Brown briefs and organized Oliver Brown's legal battle through the courts. At the U.S. Supreme Court, Jewish justice Felix Frankfurter acted as the head Brown cheerleader. Frankfurter, working with two Jewish confidantes, Alexander Bickel and Philip Elman, eventually managed to tilt the Court's attitudes pro-Brown. Frankfurter's activism on behalf of Brown was so vigorous that he and his cohorts managed to get the Supreme Court to allow a re-argument of the case, a crucial factor in Brown becoming law. Frankfurter is also the man who got the term "all deliberate speed" put into a later 1955 Brown compliance ruling by the court, the word "speed" apparently having a hastening aura to it that Frankfurter thought might be helpful to pro-Browners (Fine 507).
In addition to the Jewish support above to strengthen the Brown case, more information is available to validate such a label. Although Jews made up only about 2% of the United States population in the early 1950's, they made up approximately 50% of the people who wrote/co-wrote/advised about/signed the briefs and amicus curiaes surrounding the Brown case. A list of those Jews, excluding Greenberg and Swirk Brown, includes Jack B. Weinstein, Louis Pollack, John Ligtenberg, Isidor Chein, Phineas Indritz, Shad Polier, Will Maslow, Daniel Katz, Herman L. Weisman, David E. Feller, Arthur Goldberg, Otto Klineberg, Edwin J. Lukas, Sol Rabkin, Sarah M. Borchardt, Else Frenkel-Brunswick, Arnold Forster, Joseph B. Robison, Leonard Haas and Theodore Leskes. It may be impossible to learn the total number of Jews involved with the Brown case, since other Jews may have been involved behind the scenes, a not-uncommon feature in 1950's America, where many Jews preferred to remain invisible in their social activism (Weinstein, Gregory and Strambler 515).
Jewish organizations involved with the Brown case included the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, and the American Jewish Congress. Organizations that were involved with the Brown case and which likely contained a large number of Jews, due to their political bent, included the American Civil Liberties Union, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the American Federation of Teachers, the Unitarian Fellowship for Social Justice and the American Veterans Service Committee.
The Brown decision was historically significant because it was the first legal ruling to significantly alter everyday life in America vis-a-vis race (Weaver 289). It forced blacks and whites together on a daily basis. The Brown case has achieved such significance today that the U.S. federal historic site Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site was constructed, which is run by the National Park Service in Topeka. That a still-largely-White government, using mostly white tax dollars, honors a court ruling that hugely damaged traditional white culture is noteworthy. Of further significance about Brown is famed United States Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson's observation that nothing in the Fourteenth Amendment would suggest that racial segregation is unconstitutional, and, Jackson's belief that the pro-Brown faction was basing its court arguments on hazy sociology and not on law.
The opinion of the court was that segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children (Clark, Chein and Cook 499). The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system (Pettigrew 525).
The basis of the decision rested on the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which applies the standard of equality to the actions of the states as well as the Federal government in a concept known in legal circles as "incorporation." Warren wrote:
"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" (Clark, Chein and Cook 500).
The Brown case signaled the end of "de jure" segregation in the United States, that is, segregation of public places that is mandated by law (Hogan 679). Once the Brown decision was handed down, the African-American community, along with forward-thinking white Americans, placed sufficient pressure on the legal and political system to bring an end to state-supported segregation in all public facilities within 20 years through the Civil Rights Movement, led by Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The nation paid a high price for its moral conversion in the form of riots, assassination, and additional government programs to enforce the Court's decision such as court-ordered busing and affirmative action. Americans soon found that Congress and the Courts were unable to change the attitudes of Americans in respect to race relations. Certainly, America moved toward the ideals of equality and justice in the public arena, but as seen in the race riots of the 1960s and the civil disturbances in Los Angeles in 1992, the inner life of the nation is still resistant to change.
Race hatred and violence have not been completely eradicated since the Brown decision. Indeed, another type of segregation can still be seen in many schools and neighborhoods. It is known as "de facto" segregation, and it results from prejudices and stereotypes that separate our communities. Nevertheless, it was the Court's mandate in Brown v. Board of Education that forced Americans to face each other and determine if they were willing to live up to the ideals that are written in the Constitution.
In summary, Brown v. Board of Education was not simply about children and education. The laws and policies struck down by this court decision were products of the human tendencies to prejudge,…[continue]
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