On the 40th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, NBC's Bryant Gumbel looks back at the 13 black parents who sued the Topeka, Kansas school board, charging that their children’s segregated education was unconstitutional.
Brown v. Board of Education: 40 Years Later
BRYANT GUMBEL: Back in 1951, 13 black parents sued the Topeka, Kansas school board, charging that their children’s segregated education was unconstitutional. The case became famous, known as Brown versus the Board of Education. It wasn’t the first case challenging separate but equal laws, but like past cases, it was born out of frustration and dissatisfaction with racial inequities.
JACK GREENBERG: They were unhappy with the status of being second-class citizens, and they were unhappy with the quality of education they were getting, and there was no way of correcting this politically because in the south, black people with rare exceptions could not vote, so we filed lawsuits.
GUMBEL: Around the same time as the Brown case, similar lawsuits were filed in five different states. Still, it wasn’t until 1954 the case reached the nation’s highest court. Forty years ago next week, the US Supreme Court decided, that separate public school facilities for blacks were inherently unequal to those given whites, and that landmark decision became a turning point in the struggle for civil rights. It also brought to national prominence, the lawyer who argued the case, and who would later sit on the high court itself, Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Judge, THURGOOD MARSHALL: We do believe that this decision in itself, will encourage the people to take further steps without litigation in many areas.
GUMBEL: And further steps they did take.
GREENBERG: The court almost immediately began requiring desegregation of public recreation, and parks, and other kinds of public activities.
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down racially segregated schools as unconstitutional in its landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Explore 10 illuminating facts about the lead-up to and aftermath of this defining civil rights moment.