Human & Constitutional Rights, Documents

Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas

Case Background

As early as 1849 with the Roberts case in Boston, Massachusetts, African American parents challenged the system of education in the United States which mandated separat schools for their children based solely on race. In Kansas alone there were eleven school integration cases dating from 1881 to 1949, prior to Brown in 1954. In many instances the schools for African American children were substandard facilities with out-of-date textbooks and often no basic school supplies. What was not in question was the dedication and qualifications of the African American teachers and principals assigned to these schools.
In response to numerous unsuccessful attempts to ensure equal opportunities for all children, African American community leaders and organizations across the country stepped up efforts to change the educational system. In the fall of 1950 members of the Topeka, Kansas, Chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) agreed to again challenge the "separate but equal" doctrine governing public education. The strategy was conceived by the chapter president, McKinley Burnett, and the law firm of Scott, Scott, Scott and Jackson. For a period of two years prior to legal action Burnett had attempted to persuade Topeka school officials to integrate their schools. This law suit was a final attempt.
Their plan involved enlisting the support of fellow NAACP members and personal friends as plaintiffs in what would be a class action suit filed against the Board of Education of Topeka Public Schools. A group of thirteen parents agreed to participate on behalf of their children (twenty children). Each plaintiff was to watch the paper for enrollment dates and take their child to the school for white children that was nearest to their home. Once they attempted enrollment and were denied, they were to report back to the NAACP. This would provide the attorneys with the documentation needed to file a law suite against the Topeka School Board. Individuals in the Topeka case moved ahead unaware that at the same time legal counsel for the NAACP headquarters was representing plaintiffs in school cases from Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina and Washington, D.C.
Children of the Topeka plaintiffs had to travel past and away from nearby schools to attend the four schools designated for African Americans. Topeka operated eighteen schools for white children and four for African American children. In the other cases outside of Kansas, African American children attended poor facilities without basic school equipment.
When the Topeka case made its way to the United States Supreme Court it was combined with the other NAACP cases from Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina and Washington, D.C. the combined cases became known as Oliver L. Brown et. al. vs. The Board of Education of Topeka (KS).
On May 17, 1954, at 12:52 p.m. the United States Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision that it was unconstitutional, violating the 14th amendment to separate children in public schools for no other reason than their race. Brown vs. The Board of Education helped change America forever.
To this day efforts continue across the country to realize the dream of the NAACP and the families in the original Brown case.
On October 28, 1992, after three years of work by the Brown Foundation, President George Bush signed the Brown vs. The Board of Education National Historic Site Act of 1992, to establish a National Park in Topeka at the site of one of the historically African American schools, the Monroe Elementary School Building. The Park will interpret this history for the education and enjoyment of the American people. Plans are currently underway for the opening in late 1998.

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