Timeline

1954

May 17th, 1954

United States Supreme Court Declares Racial Segregation of Public Schools Unconstitutional

The Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education grew out of several cases challenging racial segregation in school districts across America, filed as part of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's strategy to bar the practice nationwide. Because the lawsuits addressed the same legal questions, the United States Supreme Court consolidated them under the name of a case in which lead plaintiff, Oliver Brown, sued the Topeka, Kansas, Board of Education on behalf of his daughter, Linda.

A black public school student in Topeka, Kansas, Linda Brown lived blocks from an elementary school but was forced to travel over an hour to reach the all-black school she was designated to attend. When she tried to enroll in the closer neighborhood school, which was all-white, the Board of Education denied her request.

In the United States Supreme Court, NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall argued that segregated schools were harmful and left black children with feelings of inferiority. On May 17, 1954, the Court unanimously ruled that segregation in public education is unconstitutional, overturning the "separate but equal" doctrine established by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. Relying on evidence of segregated facilities' negative psychological impact on black children, Chief Justice Earl Warren declared that "in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."