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Mandating an 'Even Hand'

When, on Dec. 9, 1952, Robert L. Carter, an attorney representing plaintiffs before the U.S. Supreme Court, made oral arguments, he stated, "It is our position that any legislative or governmental classification must fall with an even hand on all persons similarly situated."

The case in which Carter participated resulted in one of the Supreme Court's most famous and far reaching decisions. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, declaring that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

Hurlock, Md., elementary school. Prints and Photographs Division. Letter from Felix Frankfurter to Earl Warren, May 17, 1954. Holograph letter. Earl Warren Papers, Manuscript Division, (82B).

Fifty years later, the Library has mounted an exhibition commemorating this landmark decision. The exhibition examines precedent-setting court cases that laid the groundwork for Brown v. Board, explores the Supreme Court argument and the public's response to it and closes with an overview of this decision's aftermath. The exhibition features more than 100 items from the Library's extensive holdings on the struggle for civil rights, including books, documents, photographs, personal letters, maps, music, films, political cartoons and prints.

The exhibition also includes a presentation of Voices of Civil Rights, a joint project of the Library of Congress, AARP and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Over the next year, the project will collect and preserve thousands of personal stories, oral histories, photographs and personal artifacts of the civil rights movement in America. The collection will form the world's largest archives of personal accounts of America's struggle for justice and equality and will be permanently housed at the Library of Congress. To add your story, contact Voices of Civil Rights online.

As with nearly all major Library exhibitions, you can view a version of "'With an Even Hand'" online. More than 50 virtual presentations are in the Exhibitions section of the Library's popular Web site. From ancient culture ("Scrolls from the Dead Sea") to modern design ("The Work of Charles and Ray Eames"), from Sigmund Freud ("Conflict and Culture") to Dagwood Bumstead ("Blondie Gets Married"), the exhibitions of the Library are as diverse as its extraordinary collections.

The Library's American Memory thematic presentations are an excellent place to study the civil rights movement. An excellent place to start is with "The African American Odyssey" presentation. Other relevant presentations can be accessed from the American Memory collections list page.


A. Hurlock, Md., elementary school. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZ62-126579 (b&w film copy neg.); Call No.: LOT 13088, no. 96 [P&P]. Publication may be restricted. For information see Visual Materials from the NAACP.

B. Letter from Felix Frankfurter to Earl Warren, , May 17, 1954. Holograph letter. Earl Warren Papers, Manuscript Division, (82B). 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."


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