Brown v. Board of Education redux

I was looking up something the other day and saw the Supreme Court opinion in Brown v. Bd of Ed.  I’m not sure I’ve ever actually read the case.  So I copied it and read it this morning, Saturday morning after my daily walk with my wife to get coffee.

My first thought about the case is the length of the opinion – 4 and a half pages before footnotes, 1873 words!  Oh for those days again, simplicity!

As for the merits, there is an interesting (and short) summary of grade school education in 1868 when the 14th Amendment was enacted, trying to figure out what Congress and the state meant when ratifying the 14th amendment.   Grade school education was largely non-existent then, certainly public education and especially in rural areas – so not much help there.  “We must look instead to the effect of segregation itself on public education.”

Chief Justice Earl Warren took his place on the court on Oct 5, 1953.  Brown came down on May 17, 1954, so seven months later.  As I understand it, the court under Chief Justice Fred Vinson was prepared to hold, 5-4, that separate but equal schools were just fine thank you.  They decided to rehear argument though at the end of the term and put it over to the next term.  Justice Vinson died just before the next term began and Earl Warren became the new chief justice.  (Side Note:  From Vinson’s death to Warren’s swearing in was 27 days.)   Warren went to work convincing the justices to look at the issue another way and the final ruling to overturn Plessey v. Ferguson, at least as to public grade schools, was 9-0.

Earl Warren stated simply:

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.

Thurgood Marshall, one of my heroes, argued for the schools, some of them anyway.

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