Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Civil Rights: Brown v. Board of Education

“Everything I did in my life that was worthwhile I caught hell for.” -Earl Warren, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice during Brown v. Board of Education and Miranda v. Arizona. #quote

Brown v. Board of Education
Segregation - our nation's caste system (keeping the races separate - denying access to African Americans)

The Brown decision would test the validity of the law - law that existed for decades (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896)

It was essential the Supreme Court decide the case unanimously, anything less would appear weak - considering the controversial nature of the issue, unanimity was key - the Court could not give the appearance of division

The reasoning: Segregation in public education was a violation of the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause

Many people viewed schools as the ticket to advancement - segregated schools would have a detrimental effect on Black children - sense of inferiority has an effect on a child's ability to learn

"... to separate them from others of similar age and qualifications because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way very unlikely to ever be undone." From the majority, Chief Justice Earl Warren

-Controversy over footnote #11 (Clark's research)

"We conclude unanimously, that in the field of public education the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

-Controversy over the language (some felt the language was weak and/or vague - for example, no specific timeline for desegregation)

Brown II: "...with all deliberate speed." Again, some felt the language too weak/vague - left open the door to Southern resistance. In fact, desegregation in much of the South moved along at a snail's pace. From the perspective of the Court, their choice in language was necessary - stronger language could have triggered greater Southern resistance.

The decision was met with harsh reaction - especially in the South (In Mississippi, there was a steady increase in violent crime against Blacks who exerted their rights following the decision.)

Violent backlash took the form of beatings, burnings, lynchings, etc.
Citizens' Council - urban, middle class hate group (goal was to make it extremely difficult for any Black to find and hold a job, get credit, vote, etc.)

Many Southern districts stalled implementation
Where desegregation occurred, what seemed to be the motivating factor(s)?

Psychology connection: What is "the psychology of inevitability"? Could that have played a role in "speeding" up the process of desegregation in some districts?

Brown was a success when all three branches of government took the decision seriously:
"The peak of the effort to desegregate the schools came in the late 1960's and early 1970s. The only period in which there was active, positive support by both the courts and the executive branch of the government was the four years following the enactment of the l964 Civil Rights Act. During this period federal education officials, the Department of Justice, and the high courts all maintained strong and reasonably consistent pressure for achieving actual desegregation. During this period desegregation policy was transformed from a very gradual anti-discrimination policy to one of rapid and full integration." http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/16_01/Seg161.shtml
1988 was the peak year for integration - steady decline ever since

Legacy of Brown:
*Offered the possibility of long-awaited change (would have consequences extending beyond public education)
*Perception the Supreme Court was an ally in the struggle for Civil Rights
*Brown shaped policy in other areas such as the criminal justice system

The most segregated states for Black students include the leaders for the last quarter century: Illinois, Michigan, New York, and New Jersey. California, which has a small percentage of Black students, and Maryland have moved rapidly up this list. Outside the South we find the two states with the most dramatic declines in Black student contact with white students since l980: Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

NPR Coverage:

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