X once said, “I am not a racist. I am against every form of racism and
segregation, every form of discrimination. I believe in human beings, and that
all human beings should be respected as such, regardless of their color.” Every
person should be treated equally and live without fear of being discriminated
against because of the color of their skin. During the earlier history of the
United States, equal rights for all individuals were not available and the
mistreatment of people of African descent were brutal. The ratification of
multiple amendments became a turning point in aiding not only of people of
color; however, it also led to increase tension from whites to further assert
their superiority. As a result, it has to led to rise of multiple cases that
would bring about the case of Brown vs. Board of Topeka Kansas and the decision
on the education system.
The Declaration of Independence
states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created
equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Every man
should be created equal and since God granted these rights, government could
not take them away and be allowed to live a happy and prosperous life. The
first African slaves were brought to Jamestown in 1619 and from that moment on,
slavery and segregation began in the United States. It wasn’t until the
Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, that ratified and ended slavery. The Fourteenth
Amendment enforces that no state shall deprive anyone of either “due process of
law” or of the “equal protection of the law.” The Fifteenth Amendment gave
African Americans the right to vote.
These Amendments did not protect
African Americans from being treated equally by their white counterparts,
especially in the South. Many state legislatures legally mandated segregation before
known as Jim Crow laws, where blacks and whites could not ride the same buses
or attend the same schools. It wasn’t until 1892, when Homer Plessy, who was
seven-eighths Caucasian, was arrested for refusing to give up his seat on a
train to a white man and move to the car reserved for blacks, as required by
Louisiana state law. Plessy decides to fight his arrest and the Plessy v.
Ferguson case made it all the way to the United Supreme Count but the court
ruled against him 7-1. Justice John Marshal Harlan was the only objector in the
case and stated, “Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor
tolerates classes among citizens.” Justice Harlan was the only judge to believe
that the Constitution is neutral amongst its citizens. With the Plessy ruling, Jim
Crow laws and racial discrimination continued through the twentieth century.
In 1899, the case of Cumming v.
Board of Education of Richmond County, the Supreme Court ruled in support for
the school board’s decision to spend tax money on a public white high school
while choosing to close a public black high school at the same time due to
financial reasons. In the case of Berea College v. Commonwealth of Kentucky in
1908, the Supreme Court backed Kentucky state law forbidding all schools and
colleges to be desegregated. In 1909, the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded by W.E.B. DuBois, Ida
Wells-Barnett, Mary White Ovington, among others to eliminate lynching and
fight for racial and social injustice. In both the Murray v Maryland and
Missouri ex rel Gaines v. Canada cases, courts ruled that both law schools
violated the “separate but equal” doctrine or the “equal protection clause”.
The Court of Appeals in the Murray case, ordered the law school to admit him.
With the Gaines case, Gaines hired Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP legal team
to sue the state. The Supreme Court ruled and required the state to provide
legal education to black students. In the Sweat v Painter case, Herman Sweat
applied to the University of Texas’ “white” law school and was not admitted
because a “black” school already existed but this school was underfunded and swiftly
put together. As the case was brought before the Supreme Court, the Court
agreed with him that both the “black” and “white” law schools were not equal
and required for the University law school to admit Sweat. During 1949, George
McLaurin was admitted to the University of Oklahoma’s doctoral program but was
required to be apart from his fellow white students at all times, which extremely
affected his academic life and eventually went on to sue to stop this practice.
The McLaurin v. Oklahoma Board of Regents of Higher Education went before the
Supreme Court in 1950 and decided that it was unconstitutional and interfered
with his ability to learn his profession and ordered to stop immediately.
During the early 1950s, the U.S.
Supreme Court heard five separate cases that brought up the issue of
segregation in public schools. The Brown v. Board of Education consisted of Bolling
v. Sharpe, Davis v. Board of Education of Prince Edward County, Briggs v.
Elliot, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, and Gebhart v. Belton. All
plaintiffs starting from the Gaines case on, all hired Thurgood Marshall and
NAACP defense team to handle their cases. In 1952, the consolidated cases under
the Brown v. Board of Education came before the Supreme Court. Marshall argued
that the segregated school systems were constitutionally unequal and it
violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Separate
but Equal doctrine that came after the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling, allowed for
segregated facilities as long as they were equal to white schools. Finally, on
May 14, 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled, 9-0, that separate but equal
facilities were unequal and violated the Equal Protection Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment. Chief Justice Earl Warren stated, “The Court also held
that the segregation of public education based on race instilled a sense of
inferiority that had a hugely detrimental effect on the education and personal
growth of African American children.” When you have a segregated school, you
are tipping the scale to favor one race over another just because of the color
of their skin.
All these cases played a pivotal
role in fighting for equal and quality education that everyone is provided today.
If it wasn’t for Homer Plessy refusing to give up his seat on the train on June
7, 1892 and fighting his case in court, organizations would not have been
founded to gain support to abolish Jim Crow laws and other segregation laws. Thurgood
Marshall was the head of the NAACP legal group and argued all the segregation
cases starting from the Missouri ex rel Gaines v. Canada and on. Marshall
believed that all schools should be created equal and every student should have
the right to be admitted to any school of their choosing without being rejected
based on their race. Marshall was successful in all of his previous cases
leading up to the Brown v. Board of Education case and kept raising the issue
of segregated schools were not equal and in violation of the Fourteenth
Amendment. All Justices of the Supreme Court came to an agreement that public
school segregation was unconstitutional. Without these cases being heard by the
Supreme Court, we may still have segregated schools today.