Thursday, August 06, 2020


Article Index

II. Impact of Brown on the Desegregation of Public Schools

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court issued one of the most, if not vitally important, civil rights decisions in the history of the country. This came in the seminal decision of Brown v. Board of Education. Brown, which overruled Plessy v. Ferguson, invalidated the legal doctrine of separate but equal. For more than 50 years, the decision in Plessy upheld the legality of separate but equal educational systems. According to Plessy, it was legal to educate African-American and white students separately in different facilities. However, the court in Brown held that in the field of public education the doctrine of separate but equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.

The Brown decision has had an enormous impact on the education of all students, especially minorities. The Brown decision also has had a tremendous impact on ending segregation in public transportation,*7 accommodations, and recreation and park facilities. Indeed, the legal principles set forth in the Brown decision, transcends from educational law to other substantive laws.

In many school districts, especially in the South, the Brown decision was successful in ending de jure segregation. Unfortunately though, the Brown decision failed to be a catalyst for ending institutionalized racism. Racism has plagued African-American students, especially African-American male students who were often bused into predominately white and hostile educational environments for the sake of desegregation. African-American students experienced more hostility as school districts attempted to desegregate public schools. As school districts return to segregated schools, African-American male students find themselves in school environments similar to the legal segregation scheme in Plessy. The only difference between pre-Brown and post-Brown is that the discrimination is not blatant but hidden in policies and practices that create a hostile learning environment.

The Brown decision established the importance of education and the responsibility of state and local governments to provide a quality *8 education to all its citizens, including minorities. Specifically, the court stated:

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, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.

Ironically, Chief Justice Warren's statement still remains the primary issue in public schools today. It is clear from the wealth of educational data that state and local school districts have failed miserably to provide equal opportunities to minority students, especially African-American males. Even more compelling today, African-American children will find it difficult to succeed in life without an adequate education. For African-American males, it is more than a doubt, but a reality, that the American education system has failed to place them on a path which leads to the fulfillment of the American dream. Instead, African-American males are disproportionately expelled, segregated in a segregated educational system, and pushed along a path of despair and failure.

Vernellia R. Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law