‘Separate but equal’ is inherently unequal: The NAACP’s struggle against segregation

01 June 2016

History

Before June springs into action I thought it important to honour the past month as the 62nd anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education verdict which overturned the Jim Crow Laws and marked a milestone in civil rights history. In May 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in schools violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which grants equal protection of the laws to all United States citizens.

Brown v. Board of Education decision, Oct 1954, © Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. To see this document in the collection click the image in the blog.

The case was prompted by Oliver Brown who – after his daughter, Linda Brown, was deemed by the management of Monroe Elementary as the wrong colour for their white elementary school – sought support from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Other parents joined Brown’s campaign and, on 1 October 1951, the NAACP took their cases to the Supreme Court to request a ruling against the segregation of schools.

NAACP programs, 25 Jun 1957 - 8 Jul 1962, © Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. To see this document in the collection click the image in the blog.

Brown’s case was led by Thurgood Marshall, an NAACP litigator who had been arguing against the unjust racial policies of schools and universities since 1933 following the refusal of his own application to the University of Maryland’s Law School which was denied solely on the basis of his race. As with his first case against Maryland, Marshall succeeded in his efforts and won the Brown argument. On the 17th May 1954 the unanimous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court was read, concluding that “in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”. 

As America was to learn, however, this was not the end of racial segregation across schools. In 1961, the states of South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi still maintained completely segregated school systems. Moreover, a report released just last month by the Government Accountability Office, shows that the number of schools segregated along both racial and financial lines grew by 143% between the school years 2000/01 and 2013/14. Nevertheless, there is no denying that Marshall’s Brown v. Board case was a major turning point that set the wheels in motion towards a less segregated America.

Marshall went on to become the first African American appointed to the United States Supreme Court. He was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson and served on the Supreme Court from 1967 to 1991. Within this post, Marshall continued the long struggle for racial equality by fighting for the just enforcement of African Americans’ constitutional rights.

Marshall, Thurgood, 14 Jul 1967, © Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. To see this document in the collection click the image in the blog.

The document containing the Brown v. Board of Education decision plus many other items relating to further contexts of African American history can be found in Adam Matthew’s collection African American Communities. For more information, including free trial access and price enquiries, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

About the Author

Lucy Davis

Lucy Davis

Having joined Adam Matthew’s Editorial team as a Development Assistant in February 2016, I have already had the chance to work across a wide variety of exciting projects including Literary Print Culture, Shakespeare's Globe and The First World War. My academic background lies in literature and language. I am particularly interested in literary and linguistic contexts within postcolonial writing such as African American and Indian Dalit poetry.

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