Brown et al. v. Board of Education of Topeka et al. (347 U.S. 483)

The U. S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision declared segregation unconstitutional in May 1954, overturning over fifty years of "separate but equal" legal doctrine that originated in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). The case included five separate lawsuits originating in Prince Edward County, Virginia, Clarendon County, South Carolina, Washington D.C., Wilmington, Deleware, and Topeka, Kansas. The cases were taken together and argued before the Supreme Court on appeal on December 9, 1952. The opinion of the court was unanimous in stating segregation "inherently unconstitutional." Chief Justice Earl Warren, writing the opinion for the whole court, argued that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment prohibited states from maintaining racially segregated public schools even if physical facilities and other tangible factors were equal. The opinion argued that the clock could not be "turned back" to the time when the Amendment was adopted to determine whether segregation in education was constitutional; instead, the court had to view the role of public education in American life "in the light of its full development and its present place." The decision rested squarely on the Court's application of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, but it included references in a footnote to sociological and psychological studies describing the devastating effects of segregation on African American school children. Critics of the Court's decision considered it based not on law or precedent but on social science and an example of judicial activism. The remedies for the case were argued in April 1955 in what is commonly called Brown II (349 U.S. 294). In May 1955 the Supreme Court issued another unanimous opinion stating that local circumstances would dictate how and when schools would desegregate. The Court urged that desegregation proceed "with all deliberate speed." The Brown decisions set off a storm of resistance in the South as legislators and local white leaders tried to avoid or block federal court orders to desegregate schools. The decision also gave sustenance, inspiration, and hope among African Americans pushing for equal citizenship.