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Brown v. Board of Education: 1954

Naacp Takes On Topeka Board Of Education, Fight Goes To Supreme Court, Court Throws Out Plessy; Declares Segregation Illegal

Appellants: Several parents of African-American children of elementary school age in Topeka, Kansas
Defendant Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas
Appellants Claim: That the segregation of white and African-American children in the public schools of Topeka solely on the basis of race denied the African-American children equal protection under the law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment
Chief Defense Lawyers: Harold R. Fatzer and Paul E. Wilson
Chief Lawyers for Appellants: Robert L. Carter, Thurgood Marshall, Spottswood W. Robinson, and Charles S. Scott
Justices: Hugo L. Black, Harold H. Burton, Thomas C. Clark, William 0.Douglas, Felix Frankfurter, Robert H. Jackson, Sherman Minton, Stanley F. Reed, and Earl Warren
Place: Washington, D.C.
Date of Decision: May17, 1954
Decision: Segregated schools violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment

SIGNIFICANCE: Brown v. Board of Education held that segregated schools were unconstitutional, overturning the "separate but equal" doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).

Sometimes in history, events of great importance happen unexpectedly to modest men. Such was the case with Oliver Brown, whose desire that his children be able to attend the public school closest to their home resulted in a fundamental transformation of race relations in the United States.

Brown was born in 1919 and lived in Topeka, Kansas, where he worked as a welder for a railroad. Brown's family literally lived on the wrong side of the tracks: their house was close to Brown's place of work, and the neighborhood bordered on a major switchyard. Not only could the Brown family hear the trains day and night, but because the Topeka school system was segregated, the Brown children had to walk through the switchyard to get to the black school a mile away. There was another school only seven blocks away, but it was exclusively for white children.

In September 1950, when his daughter Linda was to enter the third grade, Brown took her to the whites-only school and tried to enroll her. Brown had no history of racial activism, and outside of work his only major activity was serving as an assistant pastor in the local church. He was simply tired of seeing his daughter being forced to go through the switchyard to go to a school far from home because she was black. The principal of the white school refused to enroll Brown's daughter. Brown sought help from McKinley Burnett, head of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1954 to 1962