The county chapter of the NAACP sponsored an essay contest for students on the significance of Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated "separate but equal" public schools. The first-place essays are printed here. The winners were honored at a dinner May 17 at Prince George's Community College and received cash awards.
By Catherine Karlburg
School desegregation did not come without a fight. Southern activists and politicians resisted the move and did much to stop integration from invading their states. In 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was forced to send . . . troops to Little Rock High School to protect the first entering black students.
To this day, efforts continue across the country to realize the dream of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the families in the original Brown case. The landmark decision of the Supreme Court on May 17, 1954, altered the economic, political and social structure of this nation. Brown v. Board of Education changed America forever.
In the Midwestern town of Topeka, Kan., a third-grader named Linda Brown attended the Monroe Elementary School for black children. . . . In September of 1950, her father, Oliver Brown, took Linda to the neighborhood all-white Sumner Elementary School; however, the school refused to admit her because of state law and local segregation rules. Oliver Brown went to the Topeka branch of the NAACP and asked for help.
In 1951, the NAACP requested an injunction that would forbid the segregation of Topeka's public schools. The U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas ruled in favor of the Board of Education. The decision was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in October 1951 and the case was combined with other cases that challenged school segregation in South Carolina, Virginia and Delaware. The case was heard initially in December 1952 and reargued a year later in December 1953. The court requested that both sides examine the circumstances surrounding the adoption of the 14th Amendment in .
The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868 and, along with the 13th Amendment (1865), which abolished slavery, and the 15th Amendment [(1870)], which gave African American males the right to vote . . . are collectively known as the Reconstruction amendments. These amendments were ratified after the Civil War during the time known as Reconstruction.
The first 10 amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, established civil liberties for persons in the United States. These amendments secured freedoms and set limits on how far the government could encroach on our liberty. The 14th Amendment introduced the concept of "equality" into the Constitution as well as "nationalizing" the provisions of the Bill of Rights to the states. The 14th Amendment contains the following four key stipulations:
a. No state shall make or enforce any law that shall abridge privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.
b. All persons born in the United States are citizens.
c. No state shall deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law.
d. Nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.
The Supreme Court had to make its decision based not on whether or not the authors of the 14th Amendment had desegregation of schools in mind when they wrote the amendment . . . but based on whether desegregation deprived black children of equal protection of the law when the case was decided in 1954.
Chief Justice Earl Warren read the unanimous decision:
"We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other 'tangible' factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does. . . . We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment."
The Supreme Court struck down the "separate but equal" doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson for public education, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and required desegregation of schools across America.
Thurgood Marshall was one of the primary leaders for civil rights during the 1950s and 1960s. A distinguished lawyer, Marshall specialized in civil rights cases and was admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1939. Marshall's most significant legal victory was the 1954 case banning racial segregation in public schools. In October 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Marshall to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education did not abolish segregation in other areas of society, such as public accommodations, nor did it require desegregation of public schools by a specific time; however, it was a giant step toward complete desegregation of public schools. Without this decision our society would most likely be subject to a great deal of civil unrest between the races and possibly another "great war."
I believe that the Supreme Court's decision was the "gateway" to the realization of civil rights -- protections and entitlements that we as Americans seek from our government. Brown v. Board of Education withdrew all constitutional authority to use race as a criterion of exclusion, and it helped lay the foundation for entitlements in the areas of employment, education, accommodations and voting rights.
This decision was rendered at the beginning of the period known as the "Second Reconstruction" (1954-1965). During this time in our history, civil rights laws such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been established but were not being fully enforced because of power struggles between the federal government and the state governments. The Brown decision was rendered on the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment. Civil rights are protections and entitlements we seek from our government. These rights are based on factors in society that we as members of a society cannot change, such as age, gender and race or ethnicity.
Affirmative action and other entitlements grew out of these earlier initiatives. Affirmative action is defined as government policies or programs that seek to redress past injustices against specified groups by making special efforts to provide members of these groups with access to educational and employment opportunities.
The civil rights laws enacted in the 1960s officially ended state-sanctioned segregation. They did not end racism or erase stark inequities between the races. Affirmative action is necessary for admission to college because programs that give an extra boost to traditionally disadvantaged groups offer the only sure way to overcome inequality. Such programs do not guarantee educational success, but they assure that individuals from disadvantaged groups have a chance to succeed, an idea most Americans support. Affirmative action supports one of the pillars in American political culture: equal opportunity.
American political culture is rooted in the idea that everyone should have an equal opportunity, not necessarily equal results. The ruling in Brown strengthens the concept of equal opportunity. If the results had been different, we would be living in a conflicted society. The Constitution would represent the ideas of civil liberties and civil rights, but a vast majority of the people would never fully realize their potential.
In my opinion, equality in education could be improved by a different interpretation of affirmative action. If anything, preferential programs should focus on economic disadvantage, regardless of race, and better education early in life. I believe that our present method of funding schools based on property taxes is contributing to inequality in education.
It is obvious that the better-financed school systems will be able to attract the best qualified instructors and be able to acquire more equipment and supplies. This fact alone gives the students in that school system an automatic advantage. Inequality in education today has shifted from a racial basis to one of economic class. The poor, like African Americans, are denied equal access and equal opportunity.
In conclusion, I would like to commend the courage of Oliver Brown and others for their perseverance through the legal system and especially during the period of "massive resistance." I can't imagine their frustration and heartache. As a paralegal student, I have learned to appreciate that the law must be upheld even when it isn't popular. The Supreme Court justices upheld the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment in spite of the popular culture of the 1950s.
Today in America we have many serious issues facing our legislators, such as combating terrorism, improving the economy, crime and education. In order to resolve these problems, we need to come together as Americans. We are better as a society and more enriched when we have a diversity of ideas. The leaders of tomorrow, our children, have the advantage via public schools of learning to value and respect each other's strengths and similarities instead of "seeing" our differences through the lens of racism and prejudice.
Karlburg is a student at Prince George's Community College.
A Watershed Victory
By Edwina Flores
One of the most imperative obligations of the government is to ensure that every child is given the valuable opportunity that ensures the receipt of a sufficient education that would serve as the cornerstone of that child's life. To take this opportunity away would be to take away that child's future, his abilities and potential abilities. It would take away a very necessary part of that child's life.
In the ruling of the case of Brown v. Board of Education, one of the most momentous events in the history of the United States, Chief Justice Earl Warren stated, "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." This, it turns out, is a true and genuine fact. The court further recognized that an education is the basis of "good citizenship." Furthermore, because an education is classified as a right and not a privilege, the court held that the right "must be made available to all on equal terms."
Brown originated in the state of Kansas but incorporated three other cases in other states as well, including Delaware, Virginia and South Carolina. It also concerned a case from the District of Columbia. One of the cases involved a man named Oliver Brown, an African American, and his family, who resided in the city of Topeka, Kan., in the early 1950s. He had a daughter named Linda, who was just 8 years old at the time. Due to segregation laws mandated by the Topeka Board of Education, Linda was forced to attend a school that was segregated on the basis of race. It took a long bus ride for Linda to get to this "all-black" school each and every school day.
Her father disapproved of this arrangement. In search of justice and with the help of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he led the line of other minority plaintiffs who joined together to challenge the constitutionality of the much-dreaded "Jim Crow laws," laws upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. Together, they formed a single foundation and belief: "that separate can never be equal, and that racial segregation enforced by law in and of itself violates the rights of equal protection, liberty, and the due process of law guaranteed by the Constitution."
The question presented before the court was simple: "Does racial segregation in public schools deprive minority children of equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment?" Although the state of Kansas provided facilities that were fairly equal "in terms of buildings, books, qualified teachers, and other physical factors," thereby meeting the standards set by Plessy, the court nevertheless found that segregation in public schools "inherently" lacked equality and, in so doing, created "a class society in which the minority children were given a permanent sense of inferiority."
The state of Kansas, however, believed that school segregation did not "per se" violate the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. They concurred with the lower court's ruling that found "facilities for Negro children in the city of Topeka to be substantially equal to those furnished to white children." They found that because of this reason, the appellants were, therefore, not "denied equal protection of the laws being required to attend schools separate from those which white children are required to attend."
The state also claimed that the only substantial assertion the appellants had was that "segregated schooling has been found to have a detrimental effect upon colored children and a tendency to retain or retard their educational and mental development and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system." This, they believed, was not sufficient to overturn a Supreme Court ruling.
Brown took nearly two and a half years to [resolve]. One of the reasons for the length was the justices' reluctance to challenge the previously held precedent of "separate but equal" set by the Jim Crow laws. This changed, however, following the heart attack and resulting death of Chief Justice Fred Vinson. Thereafter, Warren was appointed the new chief justice.
Warren immediately brought needed change to the Court. His success in bringing the court to a unanimous decision in this case was remarkable. As a result, the court ruled that the doctrine of "separate but equal" in the field of public education had no place. It found in favor of the plaintiffs, stating that they had been "deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment." The court, thereby, ruled unanimously that schools be integrated "with all deliberate speed."
Brown was a watershed victory, especially for the nation's many civil rights activists. It turned out to be a very crucial case for a number of reasons. First, the decision established "the beginning of the end" of racial segregation authorized by law. Second, it overturned laws that permitted segregation in public schools in about 21 different states. The decision also overturned Plessy, causing the "separate but equal" doctrine to become invalidated. Lastly, the case "fortified the sovereign power of the people of the United States to protect their natural rights from arbitrary restrictions and limits imposed by state and local governments."
Additionally, Brown had an overwhelming effect on the evolution of the civil rights era of our nation. It not only desegregated public schools, but it also shed light on the need for change in public transportation and served as the basis for resulting civil rights statutes. These laws included, but were not limited to, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 and the Civil Rights Restoration Act of . Furthermore, the decision brought in a large flow of social responsibility, equity and justice, which forever altered the course of American government.
The decision, however, created great animosity between the states and the federal government. The states contended that the decision was interfering in their sovereignty and jurisdiction. "Freedom of choice" plans were implemented as a result, which gave African Americans the freedom of choice but at the same time threatened their lives and careers. The Supreme Court, however, threw out these plans nearly 13 years later, in 1968.
Although the implementation process of the decision in Brown took some time, the case was nonetheless an event that cannot be forgotten. It outlines a crucial time in American history where the struggle for civil rights was becoming a lost hope for minorities across the nation. While it mainly concerned the African American race, it had a profound effect on the whole nation.
Nonetheless, the heritage of Brown may be a much more insightful event for African Americans. It involved a period in their lives where, for the first time, they achieved a great milestone, not only for themselves but for the nation as well. Brown demonstrates the strength of the many citizens who were involved, especially the African Americans. It utterly displayed their awe-inspiring willingness to sacrifice and their self-determination. Furthermore, it demonstrates a nation's extraordinary effort to defeat discrimination, the powerful legacy that, unfortunately, still lives on today.
Flores is a senior at Friendly High School in Fort Washington.
A Better World
By Adam Scherer
In the fall of 1950, the Browns and several other families in Topeka, Kan., were asked to try to enroll their children in neighborhood white schools. When these attempts were rejected, the NAACP filed suit against the Board of Education. [Similar lawsuits were being brought in Virginia, South Carolina, Delaware and the District of Columbia.] Because the plaintiffs were listed in alphabetical order, the case became known as Brown v. Board of Education.
In the 1896 Supreme Court case, Plessy v. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that 'separate but equal' policies were permissible. Eventually, these 'separate but equal' policies carried over into education. African Americans and whites were taught in separate facilities. Fifty-eight years later, in the 1954 Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, the court ruled that "in the field of public education, the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."
This put an end to segregation in public school systems. The court ordered that a swift start toward fully complying with the court's rulings should begin with "all deliberate speed." This ruling has greatly affected the community around me today.
One way this ruling has affected me is that I have many African American friends that I originally met in school. Had this ruling never occurred, I would never have gone to school with the number of African Americans that I currently go to school with. Therefore, I would not have had the benefit of having as many African American friends as I do. I feel that people now have more racial tolerance because they are introduced to different cultures at a very early age.
Another way in which this ruling has changed the community that I live in today is that school is more realistic and relates more to the real world. During segregation, white people were not introduced to the African American culture. When white people left school and went into the real world, they would first encounter the African American culture. In public school today, other than making friends of different cultures, a white person's first exposure to African Americans, as well as an African American's first exposure to white people, comes during school, before entering the real world of business.
Also, African Americans are better educated today because they are being taught in the same schools as everyone else. . . . For example, African Americans could not get jobs involving or requiring literacy because segregation forced African Americans to be taught in separate schools. They, therefore, did not get the same level of education because their schools were poorly funded, lacking money for textbooks and related materials. African Americans now have much better lives than they did in the past; they can now compete with everyone else, regardless of color, for the same jobs and opportunities. As a result, this has made the world a much better place. If people are not educated, they may turn to crime in order to support themselves. Having a higher-quality education has allowed African Americans to pursue better job opportunities.
Another way this case has affected my community today is the creation of magnet schools to integrate public schools. One of the goals for creating magnet schools was to bus African Americans to white neighborhoods to attend school or, in the case of a reverse magnet, to bus white children into African American neighborhoods. I was previously enrolled in a magnet school and experienced, first-hand, the benefits of racial integration.
In conclusion, Brown v. Board of Education has made many changes in public education today. This one ruling about a group of African American families being discriminated against has generated great changes in the public school systems of the United States. It has increased racial tolerance and acceptance throughout the United States.
It is very common now to see several people walking down the street together and they are all of different cultures. This came about, in large part, because of the court's ruling in 1954. Also, the world is a much better place today because all citizens have the same chance to receive a quality education, regardless of race, ethnicity, or heritage.
Without this ruling, the world today would be a much different place. African Americans and whites might still be separated, African Americans might still only hold menial jobs, and they might still be treated as inferior people. Obviously, the Supreme Court ruling in this case was a great step toward a country free of prejudiced behavior and racial hatred.
Scherer is an eighth-grader at Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie.
Thanks, Linda Brown
By SieAera Monroe
If I could write a letter to Linda Brown, I would thank her for being a passionate, tenacious pioneer who helped change the economic, political, and social structure of this nation. This essay will briefly examine the infamous Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, and its impact on the nation.
Linda Brown was born in 1943 and lived in the Midwestern town of Topeka, Kan. In 1950, Linda rode the bus five miles to attend the all-black Monroe Elementary School in east Topeka. During this time, many of the African American schools were substandard facilities with out-of-date textbooks and insufficient supplies. As a result, Linda's father tried to enroll her in an all-white public school. After his request was denied, Brown fought the unfair decision.
The case, Brown v. Board of Education, focused on whether or not the 14th Amendment was violated by denying education in a particular school because of race. In essence, the 14th Amendment states, "A U.S. citizen should not be denied equal protection under the law or the right to life, liberty, or property." This case had to determine whether or not segregation fell under the area of equal protection. On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court reached a unanimous decision -- that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. This statement was the first step in making the U.S. school system more equal.
By 1979, Topeka was continuing to allow segregation in its schools. Disturbed by their refusal to comply with the 1954 verdict, Linda Brown sued Topeka for allowing their schools to remain segregated. This action is an example of Linda Brown's passion regarding desegregation. It is also an example of her tenaciousness.
Linda Brown was not the first person who fought for something that she believed in and that achieved life-changing results. However, her efforts and accomplishments helped to lead the way for other life-changing events. For example, the beginning of the civil rights movement of 1955, Equal Pay Act of 1963, Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and the Civil Rights Act of 1991.
In conclusion, although the case of Brown v. Board of Education has not solved all of the racial and segregation problems in this country, it was a major step in the right direction. This infamous case altered the economic, political and social structure of this nation. Brown v. Board of Education helped change America forever.
Monroe is a sixth-grader at Middleton Valley Academy in Temple Hills.