Following the crucial Brown v. Board of Education unanimous decision of 1954 which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, and declared that racial segregation in public schools violated the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, Northern border state cities attempted to desegregate their respective school systems without too much social resistance. However, according to Klarman, “even in those border-state cities where desgregation came quickly, the number of blacks attending racially mixed schools often remained small because of residential segregation.” (348) When it came to non-bordering Southern states, desegregation was relatively nonexistent and would not become an issue until the 1960s “as burgeoning direct-action protest made blacks more aggressive in demanding school desegregation…and federal judges grew less tolerant of delay.” (349)
One year after the original Brown v. Board of Education decision, Southern states requested exemption from the desegregation task which was brought to the Supreme Court as Brown II. Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the decision for this case as well. Associate Justices Stanley Reed, Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, William Douglas, Harold Burton, Tom Clark, and Sherman Minton presided over this case as well. Although the court ultimately upheld that “racial discrimination in public education is unconstitutional, and all provisions of federal, state or local law requiring or permitting such discrimination must yield to this principle”, it also provided Southern states with a loophole. The Brown II decision not only mandated that school boards would hold the power to desegregate, but that they should carry out the desegregation process with “all deliberate speed”, an extremely ambiguous term that allowed Southern states to stall racial equality. Without an official court order, states could essentially take as little or as long a time as they deemed necessary to desgregate their school system.
Considering the gravity of these cases, there are many secondary sources that help to shed light on the then-controversial issue of racial equality. For example, Brian Daugherity’s With All Deliberate Speed: Implementing Brown v. Board of Education, aims to provide readers with an assessment of the struggles that came with implementing integration in public schools across the country, specifically in the South. Daugherity’s book lays out a roadmap using numerous firsthand accounts and essays. According to a book review by Christopher Schmidt from The Journal of American History, Brown II demonstrates that “in the face of massive resistance the courts were largely ineffectual and southern moderates were marginalized. [Daugherity] portray African Americans – parents, lawyers, and activists – acting on the local level as the crucial players in the desegregation struggle.” In a review by writer Mark Whitman from The Journal of Southern History believes that “the greatest strength of the volume is that the contributors focus on the unique aspects of each southern state’s struggle with a future those states collectively resisted.”
Another valuable secondary source is Silent Covenants: Brown v Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform, written by Derrick Bell, the first tenured African American professor at Harvard University and a veteran civil rights lawyer. Bell argues that the Brown case acts more as a symbol of changing times and less as a legal precedent. In a review by Genna Rae McNeil from The Journal of Southern History, she explains that Bell uses his “interest-convergence theory” (which basically states that during the Brown era, racial equality would not be achieved and African-American legal interests would not be satisfied until they happened to converge with white legal interests) to support Michael Klarman’s backlash thesis in From Jim Crow to Civil Rights, “which maintains that the abolition of Jim Crow was inevitable and limits the major significance of Brown to its crystallization of southern resistance to racial change that previously had been scattered.”
There are also many primary resources that help to illuminate the effects that Brown II had in the national scheme of things. For example, following the Brown II decision, 101 congressman from across the United States put together a “Southern Manifesto“, written in 1956, as a counter to the idea of public integration in general. Written originally by South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond and finalized by Georgia Senator Richard Russell, the document goes into great detail regarding “the school cases as a clear abuse of judicial power.” This document helps us to understand the Brown v Board of Education cases from a Southern segregationist perspective.
Another primary resource that helps us to further understand the effect that the Brown II decision had on African Americans of the time is an autobiography written by Melba Beals, one of the members of the infamous “Little Rock Nine” group. Little Rock Nine represents nine African American students from Little Rock, AK who were prohibited from attending their local high school by Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus despite the Supreme Court legislation banning segregation in schools. Following an intervention by former-President Eisenhower, those students were allowed to attend their respective publuic school. Many years later, Melba Beals wrote a book entitled Warriors Dont Cry which details the Little Rock Nine controversy and the effects that it had on her, her family, and all those involved. This book provides a valuable firsthand insight into some of the more negative effects that Brown II had on the public.