Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954)

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Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas was one of the more important court cases in the history of civil rights in the United States.

In 1951, Oliver Brown requested assistance from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to end segregation in schools in Topeka, Kansas. Brown was an African American. Brown's daughter, Linda Brown, attended one of Topeka's elementary schools for African American children. She had to walk over one mile to school, while a white elementary school was located only seven blocks from her home. Oliver Brown had tried to enroll his daughter in the white school, but the principal refused to admit her.

In 1951, the NAACP asked the United States District Court for the District of Kansas to intervene on Linda Brown's behalf. The group urged the court to issue an injunction and require the Topeka, Kansas school district to enroll Linda Brown in the white elementary school. The court ruled for the school district in its decision, contending that an earlier Supreme Court decision, Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), did permit segregation if facilities for the different races were of equal quality. The district court, however, conceded that segregation was wrong and detrimental to African American children.

Unhappy with the court's decision, Oliver Brown and the NAACP appealed the lower court ruling to the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, combining it with several other school segregation disputes from other states. The Supreme Court heard the case in 1954. The justices overturned the lower court's earlier ruling. The unanimous opinion of the court partly read:

Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other "tangible" factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does...We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

The United States Supreme Court overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and ruled that school segregation on the basis of race was unconstitutional.

The Brown v. the Board of Education decision helped end segregated schools in Ohio. While Ohio did not have officially separate institutions for whites and African Americans, individual school districts sometimes intentionally or unintentionally permitted segregation to occur. In Highland County, the Hillsboro school district had local laws in effect in the early 1950s that required separate schools for whites and African Americans. Other school districts, especially larger ones like those in Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus, also had patterns of racial segregation well into the 1960s and the 1970s. In many cities, African Americans and whites resided in their own neighborhoods. As a result of African Americans and whites living in their own parts of the city, many neighborhood schools had mostly white students or African American students. Following the Brown v. the Board of Education decision, the courts required school systems where segregation existed to integrate the schools. Most of Ohio's larger school districts then resorted to busing to end segregation. To create racially mixed schools, districts used buses to transport students from their neighborhood schools to other schools for the purpose of racial integration.

Many white and African American Ohioans opposed busing. As late as 1986, federal courts were still involved in ending segregation in Ohio's schools. This was especially true in Cleveland. Many whites had moved to the suburbs and left African Americans and ethnic whites in the city itself. Many ethnic whites preferred their own neighborhood schools, where the teachers could educate the students in their traditional customs. By the mid 1980s, with the use of busing and other methods, most school districts were desegregated.

At the start of the twenty-first century, segregation of schools has again become a major issue in Ohio. One important reason for this has been the cutting of busing by many school districts to offset budget shortfalls. With many neighborhoods still not integrated, the result of limited busing has been de facto segregation.

See Also


  1. Jacobs, Gregory S. Getting Around Brown: Desegregation, Development, and the Columbus Public Schools. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 1998.
  2. Patterson, James T. Brown v. Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002.