Direct Consequences of Brown

Earl Warren (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

In From Jim Crow to Civil Rights, (Oxford, 2004) Michael Klarman explores the direct consequences that Brown v. Board of Education (1954) had on school desegregation. Klarman looks into the effects that Brown had on both the border and southern states and how effective it really was in contributing to the desegregation of schools.

Brown v. Board of Education was brought to court to challenge “the constitutionality of racial segregation in public schools.” (Klarman, 290) Brown was named after the plaintiff, Oliver L. Brown, who was a black man whose daughter, Linda, had to travel a mile away from home to get to her black school when there was a white elementary school just a few blocks a way from her house. This case was brought to the Supreme Court along with four other cases addressing the issue of school segregation. “On May 17, 1954, the decision in Brown v. Board of Education unanimously invalidated racial segregation in public schools…segregated public schools were ‘inherently unequal’ and thus violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” (Klarman, 292)

The court’s decision was unanimously decided by the Warren Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, who wrote the majority of the opinion. The Warren Court included Stanley Reed, Felix Frankfurter, William Douglas, Robert Jackson, Harold Burton, Tom Clark and Sherman Minton. The Dickinson Library carries several books specifically about the Warren Court including The Warren Court: A Retrospective, by Bernard Schwartz (Oxford University Press, 1996), The Warren Court and the Pursuit of Justice: A Critical Issue, by Morton Horwitz (Hill and Wang, 1998), and most recently, The Warren Court and American Politics, by Scot Powe (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000).

In the beginning of chapter seven Klarman starts off by looking at the years prior to the Brown decision and reflects how the north was already starting to desegregate “in response to social and political forces emanating from World War II.” (Klarman, 344) However, it was not only just the northern states that had started to desegregate schools, but parts of western states such as New Mexico, Arizona, Kansas and Wyoming were also putting these laws into place. Border state cities soon followed this pattern willingly after the Brown decision. Klarman states that “Brown supplied the push that was necessary to induce public officials to do what they would not have undertaken voluntarily but were not strongly resistant to doing.” (Klarman, 346) However, Klarman goes on to discuss how in many rural areas of the border states, such as the Eastern Shore in Maryland, the desegregation of public schools was a much slower process and still faced a lot of resistance after Brown.

Southern states had a much more difficult time of desegregating, and desegregation did not even start to happen in most areas until at least several years after Brown. “In the five Deep South states, not one of the 1.4 million black school children attended a racially mixed school until the fall of 1960.” (Klarman, 349) The vast majority of southern schools would not desegregate schools voluntarily and, therefore, would do so only by court order. This presented a problem for blacks for it was difficult and expensive to bring a case to the Supreme Court. In the 1960s the rate of school desegregation in the south accelerated with the help of student protests, sit-ins, freedom rides and Civil Rights rallies. Klarman ends this section by stating that “the 1964 Civil Rights Act, not Brown, was plainly the proximate cause of most school desegregation in the South.” (Klarman, 363)

Klarman sites several books in chapter seven that can be found in the Dickinson Library. From Brown to Bakke: the Supreme Court and School Integration, 1954-1978, by Harvie J. Wilkinson, (Oxford University Press 1979) discusses the different Supreme Court decisions involving school integration, starting with the Brown case. Making Civil Rights law: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court, 1936-1961, by Mark V. Tushnet (Oxford University Press, 1994), looks at the numerous NCAAP cases that were brought to the Supreme Court during this time period. Tushnet also offers numerous interviews and documents about Thurgood Marshall. Klarman also references to J.W. Peltason’s book Fifty-Eight Lonely Men; Southern Federal Judges and School Desegregation (University of Illinois Press, 1971) several times throughout this chapter. The University of Illinois Press book review states that this book “is unequaled in its description of the plight of federal judges who are charged with carrying out the decisions of the Supreme Court against segregation but who are under constant pressure–social, political, and personal — to speak for the white South.”

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