Brown v. Board of Education Summary
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the parents of African-American schoolchildren who were denied access to white schools on the basis of their race. The Court decided that Kansas laws allowing for the segregation of school enrollment based on race violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by denying African-American students “benefits” and “opportunities” of education equal to those afforded to white students. The holding invalidated the concept of “separate but equal” affirmed inPlessy.
Key Players in Brown v. Board of Education
- 1Appellant: Thirteen parents of African-American schoolchildren who were excluded from enrollment in local elementary schools.
- 2Appellee: The Board of Education of the City of Topeka, including the elementary schools who excluded the children.
Brown v. Board of Education Brief
The central theme of this case was school segregation and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. In its analysis, the Court examined the duty of the government to administer a public education program equally, the Plessy doctrine of “separate but equal”, equality of school facilities, and the effect of segregation laws on African-American children in particular.
Brown v. Board of Education Facts
The plaintiff parents in this case attempted to enroll their children in the nearest public elementary schools to their homes—white schools which were blocks away—rather than the African-American schools which were far away. The schools denied the plaintiffs’ children access to the schools based on their race. The schools were acting in accordance with Kansas laws which either mandated segregation or allowed for it. The parents alleged that the “facilities” of the African-American schools were not “equal” to those of the white schools and that, based on case law from states such as Delaware, that inequality entitled the children to relief under the Equal Protection Clause. They filed a lawsuit based on an equal protection argument in the District Court of Kansas, demanding that the court enjoin the state’s active segregation of the elementary schools. Even though it acknowledged that the segregation law had an adverse effect upon African-American students, the Kansas court ruled in favor of Topeka, noting that the schools’ facilities were essentially equal. The parents appealed.
The Brown v. Board of Education Decision
The outcome of the case was a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs and a determination that equal protection—in the form of “equal educational opportunities”—was not provided to white students and to African-American students through the Kansas law and that the “separate but equal” principle upheld in the Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson did not apply to public education. It also found that incident to the Equal Protection Clause violation was a violation of the Due Process Clause. There was evidence presented that Kansas had tried to make the African-American schools and the white schools more equal in terms of their facilities; but, in formulating its decision, the Court looked instead to the effect of the Kansas law in denying the students equal protection.
In its analysis, the Court focused on the fact that, when federal and state governments administer educational programs, they are charged with an especially important duty to ensure that all recipients are benefited equally. This is because, the Court reasoned, the benefits associated with an education are fundamental to a child’s social development and to their future and continued success in life. The effect of race-based separation in education, as enforced by school segregation laws, is to indelibly impart to certain groups of students a sense of “inferiority”. This is because, as the Court noted had been found in other rulings, such separation “is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group” in particular. That is, the Court decided that the mere presence of race-based segregation in a school system “deprived” African-American students, in particular, of the benefits of education that are required for social development and success. For that reason, it held that such “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” and deprived African-American students of equal protection under the law.
Key Takeaways for Law Students
- 1Despite the holding in Plessy, “separate but equal” does not apply to public education.
- 2School segregation based on race violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” and deprive African-American students of equal protection under the law.