Brown v. Board at Fifty: “With an Even Hand”

Ruby Bridges, 1960. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram and Sun Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (148) Digital ID # cph 3c26460

The physical exhibition was on view May 13–November 13, 2004

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.” This decision was pivotal to the struggle for racial desegregation in the United States. This exhibition commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of this landmark judicial case. The title quotes Robert L. Carter, one of the counsel representing the plaintiffs. In his oral argument before the Supreme Court on December 9, 1952, Carter argued against the constitutionality of racial segregation in public schools and stated: “It is our position that any legislative or governmental classification must fall with an even hand on all persons similarly situated.”

“With an Even Hand” is divided into three sections. The exhibition examines precedent-setting court cases that laid the ground work for the Brown v. Board decision, explores the Supreme Court argument and the public's response to it, and closes with an overview of this profound decision's aftermath. The exhibition features more than one hundred items from the Library's extensive holdings on this subject, including books, documents, photographs, personal papers, manuscripts, maps, music, films, political cartoons, and prints. A film compilation captures the historic events and highlightsmedia coverage of the struggle for desegregation.

The exhibition includes a presentation of Voices of Civil Rights, a joint project between the Library of Congress, AARP, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR). 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 archive of personal accounts of America's struggle for justice and equality and will be permanently housed at the Library of Congress.