Brown II (1955): The Task of Desegregation

In From Jim Crow to Civil Rights (New York, 2004), Michael J. Klarman states that the Brown II decision made in 1955 gave hope to those who opposed the original verdict of Brown v. Board of Education a year earlier.  Klarman writes that Brown II “was a solid victory for white southerners” and that “the Court did not really intend to foist integration on them any time soon” (318-19).

The Brown Family, Courtesy of PBS

Klarman identifies the changes within the Supreme Court itself as a catalyst for the delay in the landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education and Brown II as it was almost a year between these two decisions, displaying the inability to find quick way to initiate desegregating procedures.  The case with young Linda Brown from Topeka, Kansas at the forefront brought an end to segregation in schools, but how the institution of that policy would come about was for Brown II to determine.  In Brown II, the justices determined that taking a stance favoring gradual desegregation and a flexible implementation plan.  This was not the positive result that supporters of the Brown v. Board of Education decision almost a year earlier were expecting as it did not institute immediate segregation and gave the supporters of segregation, mainly those school systems in the South, an opportunity to draw out the process of integration.

In many ways, Brown II was just as important if not more important than Brown v. Board of Education as it set into motion the sweeping decision of desegregation determined by Brown v. Board of Education and how it would be carried out in areas that still had segregated school systems.  While the case was certainly a blow to the movement towards equal rights and instant desegregation of schools, it is highly likely that, according to Klarman, “even an order for immediate integration would have been bitterly resisted” (320).

While there have been numerous amounts of books and articles written encompassing the entire process of the Brown v. Board of Education case, there have been no well-known works detailing solely the Brown II decision.  This is most likely because the Brown II decision is seen as an extension of the Brown v. Board of Education rather than its own separate entity.  However, the Brown II decision plays a major role in the books whose foundation concerns firstly the Brown v. Board of Education decision made in 1954.  Brown v. Board of Education: A Brief History with Documents by Waldo E. Martin focuses on the primary sources for its source of analysis concerning the cases which contrasts to books like Brown v. Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy by James T. Patterson which provide more of a narrative-like style when detailing the events of the cases.  Both of these works also provide the necessary background such as information on the Plessy v. Ferguson case as well as examining the context surrounding the decisions and the social environment of the time.  Journal articles such as “The Impact of the Brown v. Board of Education Decision on Postsecondary Participation of African Americans” by William B. Harvey, Adia M. Harvey, and Mark King focus more on specifics as well as the lasting effects of the Brown v. Board of Education and the Brown II cases and their ability to permeate aspects of society in the modern day.

Chief Justice Earl Warren became one of the most well-known justices in American history and his era of transforming American law, especially in regards to segregation.  Several standard biographies of Warren exist, with the most well-known being Earl Warren: Justice for All by Christine Compston and Earl Warren: A Public Life by G. Edward White, which cover his entire lifetime while both having major focuses on his role in Brown v. Board of Education and as head of the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Chief Justice Earl Warren, Courtesy of the National Constitution Center

The other judges in the case who sought unanimity in their decisions in Brown v. Board of Education and Brown II were Hugo Black, Stanley F. Reed, Felix Frankfurter, William O. Douglas, John M. Harlan, Harold H. Burton, Tom C. Clark, and Sherman Minton.  All of these justices have had at least one biography written about their achievements not only concerning their times as Supreme Court justices but also in other aspects of their political careers.  Two of the more well-known works are Hugo Black by Roger K. Newman and Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark: A Lifetime of Service by Mimi Clark Gronlund.

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