On May 17, 1954, the United States' Supreme Court concluded in Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka that racially segregated public facilities especially schools were unconstitutional and therefore illegal. Brown versus Board of Education case which took on segregation within school systems occurred after hard-fought campaigns and years of persuasion of the Supreme Court Justices to overturn the 1896 "separate but equal" ruling that allowed segregation in public facilities as long as those facilities were shared equally among blacks and whites. The campaigns which were initiated in the early 1930s by then Dean of Howard Law School, Charles Hamilton became a symbol to the black community and the backbone of the civil rights movement which came to a conclusion that "separate-but-equal" applied in education system and other public facilities were in fact not equal (Dumas, 2016). On that day, the Supreme Court made a unanimous decision that would allow integration in public schools across the United States. But despite its undoubted impact, the work of Brown is still far from achieving its initial goal of desegregating the national public schools.
Separate but Equal
According to Matthews (2016), the Louisiana State in 1890 came up with a doctrine of equal but separate accommodation for all the railroad in the state. This doctrine required that white citizens would be given their own accommodation separate but equal to those of the black community and other colored races. Outraged, the African Americans turned to the rule of law to bar the State from violating their constitutional rights, but the courts turned down their request. In the case of Plessy versus Ferguson in which Homer Plessy, an African American citizen refused to vacate a seat lawfully reserved for the whites, the US Supreme Court ruled that racially segregated facilities did not violate any constitution if they were provided equally (Matthews, 2016). Unfortunately, after the ruling, this law legally barred African Americans for decades from sharing such facilities as schools, buses and even public toilets with their white counterparts. Luckily, in the would-be famous Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, on May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court overturned the earlier doctrine that segregated most of the public facilities and established a precedent that "separate but equal" in education was actually not equal. This significantly impacted the US education system in several ways.
The Impacts in Education
Despite receiving massive resistant across the United States, especially the south, the unanimous 1954 Brown decision impacted the education system in ways still witnessed today. For instance, Brown's mandate allowed students to obtain a quality education irrespective of their cultural background or skin color. According to Young, Dolph & Russo (2015), before Brown versus the Board of Education, only one in seven African-Americans and other races of color, compared to almost three-quarters of the white students completed high school education. However, this number has significantly increased in the post-Brown era with the share of all African American citizens holding a high school degree rising to 85 percent; only 4 percent lower than that of the white citizens. This increase is also among the African American adults between the ages of 25 and 29 who are ahead of the white adults in the same age bracket in terms of the number of high school degrees earned. The research also indicates that unlike the days of "separate but equal" doctrine when only one in forty African American completed their college education, the statistics presently portray that one in five African Americans holds a college degree.
Brown versus Board of education also allowed African American teachers to be part of some public schools which were initially white based. The rule of "separate but equal" in Plessy versus Ferguson case not only racially segregated the African American students but also their teachers. The rule meant that African American teachers were only allowed to teach in those public schools colored students were allowed to attend. In particular, they were seen to be inferior academically and teaching in white-based public schools was a privilege not granted before the Supreme Court Ruling in 1954. After the Brown's case, however, the doctrine of segregation became unconstitutional and against the southern opinion, schools were now legally required to hire African American teachers in white based schools (Young et al. 2015). Even today, the number of teachers of color has significantly increased both in public and private schools almost equaling that of their white counterparts.
The Brown's ruling also set the foundation of the civil rights movement that gave the African American students and their teachers hope that the inequality would soon be dismantled on all fronts. Despite the Supreme Court's order for schools to integrate students across the United States, other states such as North Carolina devised different administrative barriers that blocked African American students from being admitted into any of the State's schools. For example, the school developed policies such as the Pupil Assignment Act which prevented the school integration without directly interfering with the Supreme Court ruling. The policy according to Dumas (2016), gave local school districts the authority to block black students from gaining entry into white schools through vague requirements that did not cite race. However, having learned the shortcomings of the process, many black activists came in large numbers and opposed the plan with hostile protests throughout the State.
Even so today, many other disparities still exist in the US school system and the Brown's primary goal for school's integration remain unfinished. Different Supreme Court decisions over the years after Brown's case have disregarded the value and the directions of the case thereby making it much difficult to implement school segregation. As Matthews, (2016) states, there are hundreds of cases pertaining to school integration which are still open in federal courts after years of proceedings. For this reason, many African American students still remain isolated and sometimes racially abused in different public schools they attend. Additionally, statistics show that even now, white students tend to complete colleges faster and with large numbers compared to the African America community and other races of color. This can be attributed to over centuries of income disparity between the affluent white families and the black minorities.
In conclusion, despite its undoubted impact, the work of Brown is still far from achieving its initial goal of desegregating the national public schools. The 1954 Supreme Court decision completely transformed the education system by illegalizing racial segregation, especially in public schools. It allowed African American students to attend any school irrespective of their skin color. Also, the rule allowed the colored teachers to be employed in any public school, a privilege that was impossible before Brown's case. However, evidence indicates that up to date, there is still cases of segregation and racial discrimination in public schools which show that Brown's work is far from finished.
Dumas, M. J. (2016). Against the dark: Antiblackness in education policy and discourse. Theory Into Practice, 55(1), 11-19.
Matthews, M. F. (2016). Brown v. Board and the Transformation of American Culture: Education and the South in the Age of Desegregation. The Southeastern Librarian, 64(1), 25.
Young, P., Dolph, D., & Russo, C. J. (2015). The Impact of Brown v. Board of Education on Student Learning in Public Schools. International Journal of Educational Reform, 24(4), 335-348.
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