African American Odyssey Introduction | Overview | Object List | Education Materials

Brown Decision--
Separate is Inherently Illegal

What’s the Main Idea?

Object Description

Probing Further

George E.C. Hayes, Thurgood Marshall, and James Nabrit, congratulating each other, following Supreme Court decision declaring segregation unconstitutional, 1954

What's the Main Idea?

Object Description

Beginning in 1950, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund attorneys worked on a school desegregation case originating in Charleston, S.C. In 1952 the case came before the U.S. Supreme Court, whose members decided to hear it with cases from Delaware, Virginia, Kansas, and the District of Columbia under the collective title Brown v Board of Education of Topeka. Thurgood Marshall and other NAACP lawyers argued the case and won on May 17, 1954. Brown marked a landmark victory in the fight for full citizenship, offering hope that the system of segregation was not unassailable.

Probing Further

  1. Thurgood Marshall, pictured in the middle, and his colleagues are exuberant after hearing that the Supreme Court ruled in their favor in what is arguably the most important decision in the Court's entire history. How powerful a signal do you think was sent to the American people and the world after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Brown v Board of Education?

  2. About one year later, Chief Justice Earl Warren issued the unanimous decision that the elimination of racial discrimination in public education could best be overseen by the federal district courts closest to each of the four school districts named in the above lawsuit. Eventually, this decision led to the establishment of each school district in the country being allowed to determine its own timetable for desegregation. In 1957, Little Rock, Arkansas, became the first school district to implement the Brown decision. Arguably, the most significant civil rights story of that year happened when nine African American students, now known as the Little Rock Nine, tried to attend classes at Central High School at the beginning of the new school year. The nine students faced some angry white students, as well as men and women from the community, all of whom tried to prevent them from entering the high school. What was the impact that these nine students made on not only desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas, but throughout the entire country? Have you ever held or acted upon a belief that was clearly in the minority? How did you react to that situation? Did you follow your beliefs? How did others react to you?

  3. Education had always been deemed important to African Americans in their quest for full citizenship. During Reconstruction (1865-1877), an unprecedented number of blacks were educated, and hundreds received degrees from institutions of higher learning. Booker T. Washington, and his development of the Tuskegee Institute laid much of the groundwork for providing African Americans with a formal education. What was the goal of the Tuskegee Institute?

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