Brown v. Board of Education Case: Summary & Significance

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  • 0:01 Background and Civil…
  • 1:52 Case Details
  • 3:00 Significance
  • 3:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Jordan

Adam is a special educator with a Ph.D. in Education

The 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education led to the integration of public schools in America. In this lesson, you'll learn about the historical background to the case and why it was so significant, after which you'll test your own knowledge of Brown v. Board of Education with a brief quiz.

Background and Civil War Amendments

Brown v. Board of Education was a 1954 landmark Supreme Court case that brought about the integration of public schools. The decision was one of many judicial and legislative efforts made to achieve racial equality, efforts that began with the Civil War Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. These included:

  • Thirteenth Amendment - Ratified in 1865 and prohibited slavery in the United States
  • Fourteenth Amendment - Ratified in 1868 and promised equal protection under the law regardless of race
  • Fifteenth Amendment - Ratified in 1870 and guaranteed African-American men the right to vote

Following the ratification of the Civil War Amendments, some states, particularly those in the South, passed a series of laws restricting the rights of African Americans. The Jim Crow laws mandated separation of African Americans and whites in public restroom facilities, on public transportation, in restaurants, and when using drinking fountains. Public schools were also segregated, or separated into black and white schools.

According to the Jim Crow laws, segregated facilities were okay because they were separate but equal. In 1896, the Supreme Court considered the validity of 'separate but equal' in the Plessy v. Ferguson case. Homer Plessy was a native of Louisiana, a black man of Creole descent, who challenged segregation by intentionally sitting in the white section of a rail car.

Plessy was arrested for his actions, and his case eventually reached the Supreme Court. The Court ruled that as long as the separate facilities were equal, they were constitutional. But as anyone who ever had to use 'colored' restrooms or schools knew, these facilities were consistently inferior and subpar. This was the claim of the plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education.

Case Details

Contrary to popular belief, Brown v. Board of Education actually consisted of five individual but comparable court cases that the Supreme Court ruled on simultaneously. In addition to Brown v. Board of Education, they included:

  • Oliver L. Brown et al v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas
  • Briggs v. Elliot, Davis v. Board of Education of Prince Edward County, Virginia
  • Boiling v. Sharpe
  • Gebhart v. Ethel

While the cases were different in nature, they all made the same claim: separate is not equal. Plaintiffs' cases were handled by the famous civil rights lawyer and future Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The plaintiffs were primarily parents of students of color. They claimed their children were not receiving educations equal to their white counterparts.

The Supreme Court finally ruled on these cases on May 14th, 1954. It found that, in regards to public education, the doctrine of separate but equal had no place and was not constitutional.

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