The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and its legal offspring, the Legal Defense and Educational Fund, developed a systematic attack against the doctrine of “separate but equal.” The campaign started at the graduate and professional educational levels. The attack culminated in five separate cases gathered together under the name of one of them—Oliver Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.
Aware of the gravity of the issue and concerned with the possible political and social repercussions, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case argued on three separate occasions in as many years. The Court weighed carefully considerations involving adherence to legal precedent, social-science findings on the negative effects of segregation, and the marked inferiority of the schools that African Americans were forced to attend.
The Supreme Court announced its unanimous decision on May 17, 1954. It held that school segregation violated the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The following year the Court ordered desegregation “with all deliberate speed.”
Kenneth B. Clark's “Doll Test” Notebook
During the 1940s, psychologists Kenneth Bancroft Clark and his wife, Mamie Phipps Clark designed a test to study the psychological effects of segregation on black children. In 1950 Kenneth Clark wrote a paper for the White House Mid-Century Conference on Children and Youth summarizing this research and related work that attracted the attention of Robert Carter of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Carter believed that Clark's findings could be effectively used in court to show that segregation damaged the personality development of black children. On Carter's recommendation, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund engaged Clark to provide expert social science testimony in the Briggs, Davis, and Delaware cases. Clark also co-authored a summation of the social science testimony delivered during the trials that was endorsed by thirty-five leading social scientists. The Supreme Court specifically cited Clark's 1950 paper in the Brown decision.
The Library of Congress does not have permission to show this image online. Notebook recording data concerning the “Doll Test,” 1940-1941. Kenneth B. Clark Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (61)
Dr. Kenneth Clark Conducting the “Doll Test”
In the “doll test,” psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark used four plastic, diaper-clad dolls, identical except for color. They showed the dolls to black children between the ages of three and seven and asked them questions to determine racial perception and preference. Almost all of the children readily identified the race of the dolls. However, when asked which they preferred, the majority selected the white doll and attributed positive characteristics to it. The Clarks also gave the children outline drawings of a boy and girl and asked them to color the figures the same color as themselves. Many of the children with dark complexions colored the figures with a white or yellow crayon. The Clarks concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” caused black children to develop a sense of inferiority and self-hatred. This photograph was taken by Gordon Parks for a 1947 issue of Ebony magazine.
Gordon Parks, photographer. Dr. Kenneth Clark conducting the “Doll Test” with a young male child, 1947. Gelatin silver print. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (62)
Reading Lesson in Washington, D.C.
As the nation's capital became more and more populated by blacks in the first half of the twentieth century, the schools in District of Columbia became more segregated. During World War II, there was no new construction of schools and the few that existed were extremely overcrowded. After the war, new construction started but did not meet the needs of the District's populace. Many black students were attending schools in shifts while many of the white schools sat nearly empty. This condition eventually led to the Bolling v. Sharpe case, one of the five included in the Brown v. Board of Education decision.
Marjory Collins. Reading lesson in African American elementary school in Washington, D.C., 1942. Gelatin silver print. FSA-OWI Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (57C)
Kenneth B. Clark's “Doll Test” Data Sheet
The Clarks used printed data sheets to record the children's responses during the “doll test,” as well as general observations. This data sheet lists the nine questions that were routinely asked. The letters “B” and “W” denote “black” and “white.” The abbreviations “LB” and “DB” denote “light brown” and “dark brown” complexions. The data reveals that Mark A., a black boy age four with a dark brown complexion, prefers the white doll and selects the white doll as the one that looks like him.
The Library of Congress does not have permission to show this image online. Sample Doll Test data sheet, n.d. Kenneth B. Clark Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (64)
Briggs v. Elliott (South Carolina)
In 1949, the state NAACP in South Carolina sought twenty local residents in Clarendon County to sign a petition for equal education. The petition turned into a lawsuit and first name on the list was Harry Briggs. In preparation for the Briggs case, attorney Robert Carter returned to Columbia University to confer with Psychologist Otto Klineberg, who was known for his research on black students' IQ scores. He sought Klineberg's advice on the use of social science testimony in the pending trial to show the psychological damage segregation caused in black children. Klineberg recommended Kenneth Clark. Clark became the Legal Defense Fund's principal expert witness. He also agreed to assist the Legal Defense Fund 's lawyers in the preparation of briefs and recruit other prominent social scientists to testify. This document records the depositions of two expert witnesses who participated in Briggs v. Elliott: David Krech, a social psychology professor at the University of California; and Helen Trager, a lecturer at Vassar College.
The Library of Congress does not have permission to show this image online. Testimony of Expert Witnesses at Trial of Clarendon County School Case Direct Examination by Robert L. Carter, May 29, 1951. Transcript. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (57)
Bolling v. Sharpe, (Washington D.C.)
Spottswood Thomas Bolling v. C. Melvin Sharpe, was one of the five school desegregation cases that comprised Brown. Because the District of Columbia was not a state but federal territory, the Fourteenth Amendment arguments used in the other cases did not apply. Therefore, the lawyers argued for “Due Process Clause” of the Fifth Amendment, which guaranteed equal protection of the law. The Consolidated Parents Group initiated a boycott of the black High School in Washington. D.C., which was overcrowded and dilapidated. In 1948, Charles H. Houston was hired to represent them in a law suit to make black schools more equal to white schools when Houston's health began to fail. He recommended James Nabrit as his replacement. Nabrit was joined by fellow attorney, George E. C. Hayes in presenting arguments for the District of Columbia case.
Brief of the Attorneys for the Plaintiffs in Brown
In June 1950, shortly after the Sweatt, McLaurin, and Henderson victories, Thurgood Marshall convened a conference of the NAACP's board of directors and affiliated attorneys to determine the next step in the legal campaign. After several days of debate, Marshall decided to shift the focus from the inequality of separate black schools to a full assault on segregation. The NAACP immediately instituted lawsuits concerning segregated public schools in Southern and border states. Brown v. Board of Education was filed in the U.S. District Court in Topeka, Kansas, in February 1951 and litigated concurrently with Briggs v. Elliot in South Carolina. Oliver Brown, one of thirteen plaintiffs, had agreed to participate on behalf of his seven-year-old daughter Linda, who had to walk six blocks to board a school bus that drove her to the all-black Monroe School a mile away.
Brief of the Attorneys for the Plaintiffs (Charles E. Bledsoe, Charles Scott, Robert L. Carter, Jack Greenberg, and Thurgood Marshall) in the case of Oliver Brown, . . .delivered in the United States Court for the District of Kansas, June 1951. Page 2. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (54) Courtesy of the NAACP
Finding of Fact for the Case of Oliver Brown
On June 25, 1951, Robert Carter and Jack Greenberg argued the Brown case before a three judge panel in district court in Kansas. They were assisted by local NAACP attorneys Charles Bledsoe and brothers John and Charles Scott. As in Briggs, the testimony of social scientists was central to the case. The Court found “no willful, intentional or substantial discrimination” in Topeka's schools. However, presiding Judge Walter A. Huxman appended nine “Findings of Fact” to the opinion. Fact VIII endorsed the psychological premise that segregation had a detrimental effect on black children. This was the windfall the NAACP needed to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. Briggs and Brown were the first cases to reach the Court; three others followed. The Court decided to bundle all five cases and scheduled a hearing for December 9, 1952.
Gebhart v. Belton; Gebhart v. Bulah (Delaware)
In 1950 Louis Redding filed a lawsuit on behalf of Sarah Bulah to admit her daughter Shirley to a nearby white elementary school, after the Delaware Board of Education refused to allow her to board an all-white school bus that drove pass their home. In 1951, Redding filed a second suit on behalf of Ethel Belton and nine other plaintiffs, whose children were barred from attending the all-white high school in their community. That fall, Thurgood Marshall sent Jack Greenberg to Wilmington to work with Redding on the litigation. Greenberg drafted this meticulous trial memorandum the week before the hearing. In it he provides a schedule of witnesses, instructions on deposing the witnesses, and the questions to be posed. Among the witnesses listed are psychologists Kenneth Clark and Otto Klineberg.
The Library of Congress does not have permission to show this image online. Trial Memorandum from Jack Greenberg concerning the Wilmington school case, October 11, 1951. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (58)
A Court Rules: Equalization, Not Integration
Spurred by a student strike, blacks in Prince Edward County, Virginia, called a lower federal court's attention to the demonstrably unequal facilities in the county's segregated high schools. As this “Final Decree” in Davis v. County School Board shows, they convinced the U.S. District Court that facilities for blacks were “not substantially equal” to those for whites. The Court ordered the two systems to be made equal. However, it did not abolish segregation. Therefore, the plaintiffs appealed, and the Supreme Court heard their case along with Brown v. Board.
Brief for Appellants, Brown v. Board, 1953
The Supreme Court did not render a judgement after the initial oral arguments in Brown v. Board. Instead, the Court submitted a list of five questions for counsel to discuss at a rehearing that convened on December 7, 1953. The questions pertained to the history of the Fourteenth Amendment and the relation between the views of the Amendment framers' intent to “abolish segregation in public schools.” The questions also addressed what remedies to be used in the event the Court ruled segregation in public schools unconstitutional. After assessing the questions, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund assembled a team of experts, including John A. Davis, a professor of political science at Lincoln University, Mabel Smythe, an economist, and psychologist Kenneth Clark, and scholars John Hope Franklin, C. Vann Woodward, and Horace Mann Bond, to conduct research during the summer.
Brief for Appellants in the cases of Brown v. Board of Education: Oliver Brown, et al. v. Board of Education, Kansas et al.; . . . in the United States Supreme Court-October Term, 1953. Washington: GPO, 1953. Pamphlet. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (73) Courtesy of the NAACP
Eisenhower and Davis
As President (1953-1961), Dwight David Eisenhower took decisive action to enforce court rulings eliminating racial segregation. He would not, however, endorse the Brown decision or condemn segregation as morally wrong. John W. Davis, who had been the Democratic Party's unsuccessful candidate for president in 1924, was the lead counsel in the South's effort to uphold the Plessy v. Ferguson doctrine of “separate but equal” in arguments before the Supreme Court in 1953. The two men are shown meeting in New York in October 1952, shortly before Davis would endorse Eisenhower for president. Thurgood Marshall in later years would say of Davis, “He was a good man . . . who believed segregation was a good thing.”
Ike with John W. Davis at the Herald Trib Forum 10/21, 1952. Photograph. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (73A)
Waiting for Courtroom Seats
This photograph shows interested members of the public waiting in line outside the Supreme Court for a chance to obtain one of the 50 seats allotted to hear the second round of arguments in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. The case involved four states (Kansas, Virginia, Delaware and South Carolina) and the District of Columbia. Among an impressive array of legal representation for the plaintiffs was Thurgood Marshall serving as chief council for the NAACP. The opposing side was led by John W. Davis, one time Democratic presidential candidate and expert on constitutional law.
Three Lawyers Confer at the Supreme Court
In preparation for the Brown court case the three lead lawyers gathered to discuss their final strategy. Pictured (left to right)are Harold P. Boulware, (Briggs case), Thurgood Marshall, (Briggs case), and Spottswood W. Robinson III (Davis case). The lawyers said that the Brown case hoped to end the “separate but equal” doctrine of the earlier Plessy decision and make it illegal to continue segregation in public schools.
The Warren Court
Pictured in this photograph are nine members of the Supreme Court that decided Brown v. Board of Education. Seated in the front row (from left) Felix Frankfurter, Hugo Black, Earl Warren, Stanley Reed, and William O. Douglas. In the back row are Tom Clark, Robert H. Jackson, Harold Burton, Sherman Minton. The photograph was taken late in 1953, after President Dwight D. Eisenhower had nominated Warren to the Court, but before the U.S. Senate had confirmed him as Chief Justice.
Brown Attorneys After the Decision
Three lawyers, Thurgood Marshall (center), chief counsel for the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund and lead attorney on the Briggs case, with George E. C. Hayes (left) and James M. Nabrit (right), attorneys for Bolling case, standing on the steps of the Supreme Court congratulating each other after the court ruling that segregation was unconstitutional.
George E. C. Hayes, Thurgood Marshall, and James M. Nabrit congratulating each other, 1954. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (99) [Dig ID # cph 3c11236]
“Segregation in Schools is Outlawed”
The case that gave the Brown v. Board of Education decision its name originated in a Federal District Court in Topeka, Kansas. The Russell Daily News, serving the city and county of Russell, Kansas, announced the decision with a banner headline and two front page stories. On the day of the decision, this evening newspaper carried United Press reports from Washington, D.C., and from Topeka, along with the ruling and the Kansas Attorney General's statement of intention to comply.
Humiliation and Inferiority
William T. Coleman assisted Thurgood Marshall with the planning and execution of the Brown litigation. Member of the NAACP Legal Committee, Coleman's stellar academic record at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law School paved his way to the Supreme Court, where he became the first African American clerk in 1948. Coleman wrote this memorandum for Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter in 1949. Agreeing with Coleman's contention that segregation was unconstitutional because it was an humiliating sign of inferiority, Frankfurter commented: “That it is such has been candidly acknowledged by numerous accounts & adjudications in those States where segregation is enforced. Only self conscious superiority or inability to slip into the other fellow's skin can fail to appreciate that.”
Warren Works For Unanimity
Realizing that overturning school segregation in the South might entail a degree of social upheaval, Chief Justice Warren carefully engineered a unanimous vote, one without dissents or separate concurring opinions. Assigning the two opinions—one for state schools, one for federal—to himself, he circulated two draft memoranda with opinions to his colleagues. He proposed to put off the tricky question of implementation until later. He also set forth his idea that “opinions should be short, readable by the lay public, non-rhetorical, unemotional and, above all, non-accusatory.”
“A Beautiful Job”
Early in May 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren circulated draft opinions for the school desegregation cases to his colleagues on the Court. Associate Justice William O. Douglas responded enthusiastically in this handwritten note: “I do not think I would change a single word in the memoranda you gave me this morning. The two draft opinions meet my idea exactly. You have done a beautiful job.”
“A Great Day for America”
Associate Justice Harold H. Burton sent this note to Chief Justice Earl Warren on the day that the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board was announced. He said, “Today I believe has been a great day for America and the Court. . . . I cherish the privilege of sharing in this.” In a tribute to Warren's judicial statesmanship, Burton added, “To you goes the credit for the character of the opinions which produced the all important unanimity. Congratulations.”
Frankfurter's Congratulations to Warren
Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter, who had worked to achieve a definitive repudiation of segregation by the Supreme Court, sent this note to Chief Justice Warren on the day that the decision in Brown v. Board was publicly announced—a day that Frankfurter said would “live in glory.” Frankfurter added that the Court's role was also distinguished by “the course of deliberation which brought about the result.”
Warren's Reading Copy of the Brown Opinion, 1954
Chief Justice Earl Warren's reading copy of Brown is annotated in his hand. Warren announced the opinion in the names of each justice, an unprecedented occurrence. The drama was heightened by the widespread prediction that the Court would be divided on the issue. Warren reminded himself to emphasize the decision's unanimity with a marginal notation, “unanimously,” which departed from the printed reading copy to declare, “Therefore, we unanimously hold. . . .” In his memoirs, Warren recalled the moment with genuine warmth. “When the word 'unanimously' was spoken, a wave of emotion swept the room; no words or intentional movement, yet a distinct emotional manifestation that defies description.” “Unanimously” was not incorporated into the published version of the opinion, and thus exists only in this manuscript.
Celebration of the Supreme Court's Decision
The Supreme Court's decision on the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954 marked a culmination in a plan the NAACP had put into action more than forty years earlier—the end to racial inequality. African American parents throughout the country like Mrs. Hunt, shown here, explained to their children why this was an important moment in history.
Mrs. Nettie Hunt and daughter Nikie on the steps of the Supreme Court, 1954. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (97) Digital ID # cph 3c27042
Segregation Ruling Explained to the Press
Chief counsel for the NAACP Thurgood Marshall spoke to the press in New York City on May 31 after the Supreme Court decreed an end to public school segregation as soon as feasible. At the news conference in New York City, Marshall told reporters “. . .the law had been made crystal clear” and added, “Southerners are just as law abiding as anyone else, once the law is made clear.” He was speaking after Brown II, the court's second opinion in the Brown case, which ordered the implementation of the original ruling in a “prompt and reasonable” start towards desegregation.
Thurgood Marshall explains segregation ruling to the press, 1955. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (104)
Congratulatory Telegram on Brown Decision
The NAACP's affiliation with the philanthropic Stokes family began with J. G. Phelps Stokes, one of the organization's founders. At the time of the Brown decision, Anson Phelps Stokes was president of the Phelps-Stokes Fund, a charitable trust that sponsored black schools and educational projects. Stokes became familiar with the racial politics of the South through his work with the Tuskegee Institute. This telegram celebrates the consensus of the Southern justices and urges the NAACP to “heartily support the court decision postponing implementing orders so that these wonderful new[s] gains may be safe guarded with minimum disturbances in a difficult situation. . . .”
Congratulatory Letter on the Brown Decision
William Patterson was an attorney and former Executive Secretary of the International Labor Defense (ILD), an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of racial minorities, political radicals, and the working class. In 1931, the ILD competed with the NAACP for the right to represent the “Scottsboro Boys,” nine black men convicted of raping two white women. The NAACP lost the bid because it lacked a full-time legal staff spurring Walter White, then head of the NAACP, to hire Charles H. Houston and set up a legal department. In this letter Patterson, head of the Civil Rights Congress, a leftist organization, attributes opposition to the Brown decision to “the demoralizing effect of segregated schools on white youth. It has made bigots out of millions who have not learned in their separate schools that there are no superior people.”
An African American Response
The multi-faceted African American response to the decision was articulated throughout the black press and in editorials published in official publications of national black organizations. Founded in 1910, The Crisis magazine, shown here, is the official organ of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In response to the decision, a special issue of The Crisis was printed to include the complete text of the Supreme Court decision, a history of the five school cases, excerpts from the nation's press on segregation ruling, and the text of the “Atlanta Declaration,” the official NAACP response and program of action for implementing the decision.
The Library of Congress does not have permission to show this image online. The Crisis magazine: A Record of the Darker Races. Volume 61, no. 6 (June-July, 1954). General Collections, Library of Congress (92)
Conferring at the Supreme Court
In 1929 Louis L. Redding, a graduate of Brown University and Harvard Law School, became the first African American attorney in Delaware—the only one for more than twenty years. He devoted his practice to civil rights law and served as the counsel for the NAACP Delaware branch. In 1949 Redding won the landmark Parker case, which resulted in the desegregation of the University of Delaware. In1951, Redding and Greenberg tried two cases in Delaware's Chancery Court: Bulah v. Gebhart and Belton v. Gebhart, which respectively concerned elementary school and high school. On April 1, 1952, Judge Collins Seitz ordered the immediate admission of black students to Delaware's white public schools, but the local state-run-school board appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Frankfurter's Draft Decree in Brown II, 1955
After the Brown opinion was announced, the Court heard additional arguments during the following term on the decree for implementing the ruling. In a draft, prepared by Felix Frankfurter, which Warren subsequently adopted, Frankfurter inserted “with all deliberate speed” in place of “forthwith,” which Thurgood Marshall had suggested to achieve an accelerated desegregation timetable. Frankfurter wanted to anchor the decree in an established doctrine, and his endorsement of it sought to advance a consensus held by the entire court. The justices thought that the decree should provide for flexible enforcement, appeal to established principles, and suggest some basic ground rules for judges of the lower courts. When it became clear that opponents of desegregation were using the doctrine to delay and avoid compliance with Brown, the Court began to express reservations about the phrase.
Topeka School Map
In response to requests from two Justices during the oral arguments of the implementation phase of Brown v. Board, Kansas Attorney General Harold Fatzer provided the Court with this map of the Topeka public school districts along with 1956 enrollment estimates by race. Although almost all of the schools shown were either overwhelmingly white or completely black, Fatzer argued that Topeka had not deliberately gerrymandered the districts so as to concentrate black pupils into a few districts. Also shown is a key to the map, representing the placement of students in the districts.
The Library of Congress does not have permission to show this image online. Raymond F. Tilzey. The Elementary School District Boundaries for the City of Topeka 1955-1956. Printed Map. Earl Warren Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (109)
Southern White Liberal Reaction
Many white Southern liberals welcomed the moderate and incremental approach of the Brown implementation decree. Ralph McGill, the influential editor of the Atlanta Constitution, wrote in praise of the Court's decision to have local school boards, in conjunction with Southern court judges, formulate and execute desegregation orders. Certain that “the problem of desegregation had to be solved at the local level,” he told Chief Justice Warren that the Court's ruling was “one of the great statesman-like decisions of all time,” exceeding all previous decisions “in wisdom and clarity.”
The Library of Congress does not have permission to show this image online. Ralph McGill to Earl Warren, June 1, 1955. Typed letter. Earl Warren Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (113A)
Adverse Reactions to Brown
Challenges to legal and social institutions implicit in the Brown decision led to adverse reactions in both Northern and Southern states. U.S. Solicitor General Simon Sobeloff forwarded to Chief Justice Warren this letter from an official of the New York chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. The official attributed the impetus behind the Court's action to “the worldwide Communist conspiracy” and claimed that the NAACP had been financed by “a Communist front.”
The Library of Congress does not have permission to show this image online. Lee Hagood to Simon Sobeloff, September 29, 1955. Typed letter. Earl Warren Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (116A)
After the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on May 17, 1954, and May 31, 1955, desegregating schools, Thurgood Marshall (1908-1994), was featured on the cover of Time magazine, on September 19, 1955. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Marshall graduated with honors from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. His exclusion from the University of Maryland's Law School due to racial discrimination, marked a turning point in his life. As a result, he attended the Howard University Law School, and graduated first in his class in 1933. Early in his career he traveled throughout the South and argued thirty-two cases before the Supreme Court, winning twenty-nine. Charles H. Houston persuaded him to leave private law practice and join the NAACP legal staff in New York, where he remained from 1936 until 1961. In 1939, Marshall became the first director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Marshall as Solicitor General in 1965 and nominated him to a seat on the United States Supreme Court in 1967 from which he retired in 1991.
Barnard Elementary, Washington, D. C.
This image of an integrated classroom in the previously all white Barnard Elementary School in Washington, D.C., shows how the District's Board of Education attempted to act quickly to carry out the Supreme Court decision to integrate schools in the area. However, it did take longer for the junior and senior high schools to integrate.
Thomas J. O'Halloran. School integration, Barnard School, Washington, D.C., 1955. Gelatin silver print. U.S. News & World Report Magazine Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (202)