Brown v. Bd. of Educ. of Topeka, No. 1

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtWARREN
Citation38 A.L.R.2d 1180,98 L.Ed. 873,74 S.Ct. 686,347 U.S. 483,53 O.O. 326
Decision Date17 May 1954
Docket NumberNo. 4,No. 1,No. 2,No. 10

347 U.S. 483
38 A.L.R.2d 1180
98 L.Ed.
53 O.O. 326
74 S.Ct.

BROWN et al.
BRIGGS et al.
ELLIOTT et al.
DAVIS et al.
GEBHART et al.
BELTON et al.

No. 1
No. 2
No. 4
No. 10

Supreme Court of the United States

Reargued December 7, 1953
Reargued December 8, 1953
Reargued December 9, 1953
Decided May 17, 1954

Attorneys and Law Firms

74 S.Ct. 686

No. 1:


347 U.S. 484

Robert L. Carter, New York City, for appellants Brown and others.

74 S.Ct. 687

Mr. Paul E. Wilson, Topeka, Kan., for appellees Board of Education of Topeka and others.

Nos. 2, 4:

Messrs. Spottswood Robinson III, Thurgood Marshall, New York City, for appellants Briggs and Davis and others.

Messrs. John W. Davis,

347 U.S. 485

T. Justin Moore, J. Lindsay Almond, Jr., Richmond, Va., for appellees Elliott and County School Board of Prince Edward County and others.

Asst. Atty. Gen. J. Lee Rankin for United States amicus curiae by special leave of Court.

No. 10:

Mr. H. Albert Young, Wilmington, Del., for petitioners Gebhart et al.

Mr. Jack Greenberg, Thurgood Marshall, New York City, for respondents Belton et al.

347 U.S. 486

Mr. Chief Justice WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

These cases come to us from the States of Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware. They are premised on different facts and different local conditions, but a common legal question justifies their consideration together in this consolidated opinion. 1

74 S.Ct. 688
347 U.S. 487

In each of the cases, minors of the Negro race, through their legal representatives, seek the aid of the courts in obtaining admission to the public schools of their community on a nonsegregated basis. In each instance,

347 U.S. 488

they have been denied admission to schools attended by white children under laws requiring or permitting segregation according to race. This segregation was alleged to deprive the plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment. In each of the cases other than the Delaware case, a three-judge federal district court denied relief to the plaintiffs on the so-called 'separate but equal' doctrine announced by this Court in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 16 S.Ct. 1138, 41 L.Ed. 256. Under that doctrine, equality of treatment is accorded when the races are provided substantially equal facilities, even though these facilities be separate. In the Delaware case, the Supreme Court of Delaware adhered to that doctrine, but ordered that the plaintiffs be admitted to the white schools because of their superiority to the Negro schools.

The plaintiffs contend that segregated public schools are not 'equal' and cannot be made 'equal,' and that hence they are deprived of the equal protection of the laws. Because of the obvious importance of the question presented, the Court took jurisdiction.2 Argument was heard in the 1952 Term, and reargument was heard this Term on certain questions propounded by the Court.3

347 U.S. 489

Reargument was largely devoted to the circumstances surrounding the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868. It covered exhaustively consideration of the Amendment in Congress, ratification by the states, then existing practices in racial segregation, and the views of proponents and opponents of the Amendment. This discussion and our own investigation convince us that, although these sources cast some light, it

74 S.Ct. 689

is not enough to resolve the problem with which we are faced. At best, they are inconclusive. The most avid proponents of the post-War Amendments undoubtedly intended them to remove all legal distinctions among 'all persons born or naturalized in the United States.' Their opponents, just as certainly, were antagonistic to both the letter and the spirit of the Amendments and wished them to have the most limited effect. What others in Congress and the state legislatures had in mind cannot be determined with any degree of certainty.

An additional reason for the inconclusive nature of the Amendment's history, with respect to segregated schools, is the status of public education at that time. 4 In the South, the movement toward free common schools, supported

347 U.S. 490

by general taxation, had not yet taken hold. Education of white children was largely in the hands of private groups. Education of Negroes was almost nonexistent, and practically all of the race were illiterate. In fact, any education of Negroes was forbidden by law in some states. Today, in contrast, many Negroes have achieved outstanding success in the arts and sciences as well as in the business and professional world. It is true that public school education at the time of the Amendment had advanced further in the North, but the effect of the Amendment on Northern States was generally ignored in the congressional debates. Even in the North, the conditions of public education did not approximate those existing today. The curriculum was usually rudimentary; ungraded schools were common in rural areas; the school term was but three months a year in many states; and compulsory school attendance was virtually unknown. As a consequence, it is not surprising that there should be so little in the history of the Fourteenth Amendment relating to its intended effect on public education.

In the first cases in this Court construing the Fourteenth Amendment, decided shortly after its adoption, the Court interpreted it as proscribing all state-imposed discriminations against the Negro race. 5 The doctrine of

347 U.S. 491

"separate but

74 S.Ct. 690

equal" did not make its appearance in this court until 1896 in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, supra, involving not education but transportation. 6 American courts have since labored with the doctrine for over half a century. In this Court, there have been six cases involving the 'separate but equal' doctrine in the field of public education.7 In Cumming v. Board of Education of Richmond County, 175 U.S. 528, 20 S.Ct. 197, 44 L.Ed. 262, and Gong Lum v. Rice, 275 U.S. 78, 48 S.Ct. 91, 72 L.Ed. 172, the validity of the doctrine itself was not challenged.8 In more recent cases, all on the graduate school

347 U.S. 492

level, inequality was found in that specific benefits enjoyed by white students were denied to Negro students of the same educational qualifications. State of Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337, 59 S.Ct. 232, 83 L.Ed. 208; Sipuel v. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma, 332 U.S. 631, 68 S.Ct. 299, 92 L.Ed. 247; Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629, 70 s.Ct. 848, 94 L.Ed. 1114; McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 339 U.S. 637, 70 S.Ct. 851, 94 L.Ed. 1149. In none of these cases was it necessary to re-examine the doctrine to grant relief to the Negro plaintiff. And in Sweatt v. Painter, supra, the Court expressly reserved decision on the question whether Plessy v. Ferguson should be held inapplicable to public education.

In the instant cases, that question is directly presented. Here, unlike Sweatt v. Painter, there are findings below that the Negro and white schools involved have been equalized, or are being equalized, with respect to buildings, curricula, qualifications and salaries of teachers, and other 'tangible' factors. 9 Our decision, therefore, cannot turn on merely a comparison of these tangible factors

74 S.Ct. 691

in the Negro and white schools involved in each of the cases. We must look instead to the effect of segregation itself on public education.

In approaching this problem, we cannot turn the clock back to 1868 when the Amendment was adopted, or even to 1896 when Plessy v. Ferguson was written. We must consider public education in the light of its full development and its present place in American life throughout

347 U.S. 493

the Nation. Only in this way can it be determined if segregation in public schools deprives these plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws.

Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities,...

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747 practice notes
  • Deboer v. Snyder, Nos. 14–1341
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • November 6, 2014
    ...which the recalcitrance of Jim Crow demands judicial, rather than we-can't-wait-forever legislative, answers. See Brown v. Bd. of Educ., 347 U.S. 483, 74 S.Ct. 686, 98 L.Ed. 873 (1954). It is not a setting in which time shows that even a potentially powerful group cannot make headway on iss......
  • Marsh v. Board of Educ. of City of Flint, No. 80-40349.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Michigan
    • March 7, 1984
    ...24, 1972, 86 Stat. 103. 9 Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214, 65 S.Ct. 193, 89 L.Ed. 194 (1944). 10 Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S.Ct. 686, 98 L.Ed. 873 (1954). 11 Act of April 20, 1871, § 1, 17 Stat. 13. 12 For only a sample of this see, Briscoe v. LaHue, ___ U.S. __......
  • US v. Charleston County School Dist., Civ. A. No. 2:81-0050-8
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of South Carolina
    • June 5, 1990
    ...of the United States Constitution, as prohibited by the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S.Ct. 686, 98 L.Ed. 873 (1954). Prior to 1954, pursuant to the South Carolina Constitution and statutes, schools in South Carolina were requir......
  • Montgomery County v. Bradford, Nos. 31 and 56
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • September 1, 1996
    ...and the principles set forth in Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U.S. 294, 75 S.Ct. [691 A.2d 1296] 753, 99 L.Ed. 1083 (1955), and 347 U.S. 483, 74 S.Ct. 686, 98 L.Ed. 873 (1954), has ever gone so far as to abolish a local school board and create a new school board in its place, with a spec......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1559 cases
  • Jenkins v. State of Mo., No. 77-0420-CV-W-4.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Western District of Missouri
    • September 17, 1984 room for doubt but what the State of Missouri intentionally created the dual school system. Under Brown I, Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S.Ct. 686, 98 L.Ed. 873 (1954), this constituted a violation of the 14th amendment of the United States Constitution and no further pro......
  • Evans v. Buchanan, Civ. A. No. 1816-1822.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Delaware)
    • March 27, 1975
    ...on July 12, 1974, we found unanimously that many schools in Wilmington which were black schools prior to Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U. S. 483, 74 S.Ct. 686, 98 L.Ed. 873 (1954) (Brown I) remained identifiably black until 1974, and that the dual school system in Wilmington had not been......
  • United States v. N.Y.C. Hous. Auth., 18cv5213
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • November 14, 2018
    ...that seeks to remedy the constitutional or civil rights violations of a local school board, e.g., Brown v. Bd. of Educ. of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S.Ct. 686, 98 L.Ed. 873 (1954), a state human services agency, e.g., Angela R. ex rel. Hesselbein v. Clinton, 999 F.2d 320 (8th Cir. 1993), or ......
  • Robinson v. Cahill
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • April 3, 1973
    ...right.' The term 'fundamental right' has not been defined. It is urged that education was so denominated in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 493, 74 S.Ct. 686, 691, 98 L.Ed. 873, 880 (1954), where the Court said that 'Today, education is perhaps the most important function of stat......
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28 books & journal articles
  • Schoolhouse Property.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 131 Nbr. 5, March 2022
    • March 1, 2022
    ...(2011) (finding a negative correlation between oral health and likelihood of poor performance in school). (436.) Brown v. Bd. of Educ, 347 U.S. 483, 493 (437.) See Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565, 579 (1975). (438.) Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 335 (1976). (439.) Id. (440.) See Goss, 419 ......
  • Remedies and Respect: Rethinking the Role of Federal Judicial Relief
    • United States
    • Georgetown Law Journal Nbr. 109-6, August 2021
    • August 1, 2021
    ...119–24 (2018) (describing concern with non- material harms, including stigma, in the Supreme Court’s equal protection jurisprudence). 233. 347 U.S. 483, 492–94 (1954). 234. Id. at 494 (citation omitted). 235. See, e.g., Bd. of Educ. v. Dowell, 498 U.S. 237, 257–58 (1991) (Marshall, J., diss......
  • A Lost World: Sallie Robinson, the Civil Rights Cases , and Missing Narratives of Slavery in the Supreme Court’s Reconstruction Jurisprudence
    • United States
    • Georgetown Law Journal Nbr. 109-5, June 2021
    • June 1, 2021
    ...exercise, always turning for a backwards glance at something fated to vanish the very moment one’s eyes fall upon it.35 31. See 347 U.S. 483, 490–91, 494–95 (1954). 32. See id. at 494–95. 33. The claim that the judiciary is a nonpolitical branch can mean any number of things. For one, it ma......
  • Proceduralize Student Speech.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 131 Nbr. 6, April 2022
    • April 1, 2022
    ...See infra Section II.A. (28.) Id. (29.) See infra Section I.C.I. (30.) See infra Section II.B.2. (31.) Id. (32.) Brown v. Bd. of Educ, 347 U.S. 483, 493 (1954). (33.) See infra Section II.B.2 for additional evidence of the frequent connection between schooling and citizenship in judicial op......
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