The Supreme Court ruling of Brown v. Board of Education proves to be a watershed moment in the Civil Rights movement. The Court rules that segregation is unconstitutional.
Significance of Brown v. Board of Education
LESTER HOLT, anchor:
It’s hard to say when the civil rights movement actually began, but the 1954 Supreme Court case known as Brown versus Board of Education, was an undeniable watershed. The courts ruling, that segregation was unconstitutional, that separate was not equal, would mobilize a new generation in its struggle for equality. At the same time, another revolution was taking place. Television brought an unflinching view of the civil rights movement into American living rooms, and those powerful pictures, indelible images of the best and worst in us, helped bring about a decade of profound and unprecedented change.
Rep. JOHN LEWIS: I grew up in rural Alabama, 50 miles from Montgomery. I attended segregated school. Elementary school was a one-room schoolhouse. It had the hand me down books, dilapidated school building, overcrowded classroom, and I was bussed long distances, past a nice white school. So it was not equal, it was separate and it was unequal.
CHET HUNTLEY: Good afternoon. May 17, 1954 was a Monday. Shortly after noon, Earl Warren, the chief justice of the United States, began to read a unanimous opinion of the Supreme Court. Ruling in five cases in which five Negro children sought the right to go to the same schools as white children, the court said, ‘separate educational facilities are inherently unequal’. The court also said, ‘segregation in schools is a denial of the equal protection of the law. The Constitution prohibits the states from maintaining racially segregated public schools’.
HOLT: The ruling known as Brown versus Board of Education, was a landmark case that would mean tremendous change for the nation, especially the south. Thurgood Marshall, an attorney for the NAACP, argued the case.
THURGOOD MARSHALL: We do believe that this decision in itself, will encourage the people to take further steps without litigation in many areas. And that’s what I think is the important part about it.
CHARLES J. OGLETREE Jr.: Brown really opened the doors, not just in education, it opened up opportunities in transportation, it opened up jobs, it opened up the opportunity to vote, it created a whole sense that segregation as we knew it had to come to an end.
HOLT: But as significant as the Supreme Court ruling was, actually obtaining equal rights would not be easy. Every effort to integrate would be a struggle.
Editor's Note: Slavery ended in 1865, but racial segregation laws quickly followed. Segregation had been allowed in 1896 by the United States Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson. In that case, the court said segregation did not violate the 14th Amendment if the separate offerings for different races were equal. In Brown v. Board of Education, the court overruled this "separate but equal" principle.