Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas (1954) was a landmark Supreme Court decision that overturned the separate but equal doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and outlawed school segregation. Earl Warren was Chief Justice in the case, and future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall argued for the plaintiffs.
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Earl Warren was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who presided over the Brown v. Board decision. The former Governor of California, he was nominated to the bench by Dwight Eisenhower upon the death of Fred Vinson. Warren presided over a particularly liberal period in the court’s history including rulings in Gideon v. Wainwright and Miranda v. Arizona.
PLESSY V. FERGUSON
Brown v. Board overturned the precedent of the separate but equal doctrine established by the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson. In the case, Homer Plessy, a mixed race octaroon, was arrested for riding in a whites only train car. The Supreme Court upheld the Louisiana law, and affirmed the legality of segregation.
BRIGGS V. ELLIOTT
Briggs is one of five cases combined into the Brown v. Board case. The case is notable for evidence introduced by psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark who did racial bias testing with dolls. In their experiments, the Clarks offered children a black doll and a white doll and asked “Which is nicer?”. Most black children said that the white doll was nicer, leading to a conclusion that segregation led to feelings of racial inferiority. This was a key element in the court’s decision that segregation led to lasting damages.
BOLLING V. SHARPE
Bolling v. Sharpe is a separate case that outlawed segregation of schools in the District of Columbia. Because D.C. is not a state, the 14th Amendment argument against segregation does not apply. The court issued its ruling in Bolling v. Sharpe on the same day as its ruling in Brown v. Board.
"WITH ALL DELIBERATE SPEED"
The court ordered that schools desegregate “with all deliberate speed”. This order, and its interpretation, led to a number of confrontations, most notably in 1957 when President Eisenhower used the National Guard to force Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus to integrate Little Rock Central High School.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
* The US Courts website has a great page about the Brown decision and some of the previous cases that shaped it. The website also has a lot of interesting materials to check out.
* The National Archives has a lot of primary source documents related to the case.
* An episode Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist History, looks at the decision from the perspective of behavioral science.
* C-SPAN did a segment on the Clark Doll Test and its relevance to the Brown v. Board decision:
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