Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954)

In 1951, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) recruited 13 parents to file a class action suit on behalf of their children. The named plaintiff, Oliver Brown, was the father of a third grader who, denied admission to a neighborhood school because of his race, was forced to walk six blocks to take a bus to a black school. On reviewing the District Court's ruling based on the precedent of Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court decided that segregated public schools were unequal and unconstitutional. This led to the Civil Rights Act of 1957. These words are from the unanimous opinion written by Earl Warren. Read the full text here.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. segregation
    a social system with separate facilities for minority groups
    In each instance, they had been denied admission to schools attended by white children under laws requiring or permitting segregation according to race. This segregation was alleged to deprive the plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment.
  2. deprive
    keep from having, keeping, or obtaining
    In each instance, they had been denied admission to schools attended by white children under laws requiring or permitting segregation according to race. This segregation was alleged to deprive the plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment.
  3. doctrine
    a belief accepted as authoritative by some group or school
    In each of the cases other than the Delaware case, a three-judge federal district court denied relief to the plaintiffs on the so-called "separate but equal" doctrine announced by this Court in Plessy v. Ferguson. Under that doctrine, equality of treatment is accorded when the races are provided substantially equal facilities, even though these facilities be separate.
  4. accord
    allow to have
    Under that doctrine, equality of treatment is accorded when the races are provided substantially equal facilities, even though these facilities be separate.
  5. contend
    make the subject of dispute or litigation
    The plaintiffs contend that segregated public schools are not "equal" and cannot be made "equal," and that hence they are deprived of the equal protection of the laws.
  6. propound
    put forward, as of an idea
    Argument was heard in the 1952 Term, and reargument was heard this Term on certain questions propounded by the Court.
  7. determine
    establish after a calculation, investigation, or experiment
    We must consider public education in the light of its full development and its present place in American life throughout the Nation. Only in this way can it be determined if segregation in public schools deprives these plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws.
  8. compulsory
    required by rule
    Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society.
  9. construe
    make sense of; assign a meaning to
    In the first cases in this Court construing the Fourteenth Amendment, decided shortly after its adoption, the Court interpreted it as proscribing all state-imposed discriminations against the Negro race.
  10. proscribe
    command against
    In the first cases in this Court construing the Fourteenth Amendment, decided shortly after its adoption, the Court interpreted it as proscribing all state-imposed discriminations against the Negro race.
  11. qualification
    an attribute that must be met or complied with
    In the instant cases, that question is directly presented. Here, unlike Sweatt v. Painter, there are findings below that the Negro and white schools involved have been equalized, or are being equalized, with respect to buildings, curricula, qualifications and salaries of teachers, and other "tangible" factors.
  12. function
    the actions and activities assigned to a person or group
    Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments.
  13. foundation
    education or instruction in the fundamentals of a field
    It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship.
  14. principal
    main or most important
    Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment.
  15. quality
    an essential and distinguishing attribute of something
    In Sweatt v. Painter, supra, in finding that a segregated law school for Negroes could not provide them equal educational opportunities, this Court relied in large part on "those qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness in a law school."
  16. intangible
    incapable of being perceived by the senses, especially touch
    In McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, supra, the Court, in requiring that a Negro admitted to a white graduate school be treated like all other students, again resorted to intangible considerations: ". . . his ability to study, to engage in discussions and exchange views with other students, and, in general, to learn his profession."
  17. inferiority
    the state of being lesser
    To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.
  18. detrimental
    causing harm or injury
    Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children.
  19. sanction
    official permission or approval
    The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group.
  20. psychological
    mental or emotional as opposed to physical in nature
    Whatever may have been the extent of psychological knowledge at the time of Plessy v. Ferguson, this finding is amply supported by modern authority.
  21. contrary
    in an opposing direction
    Any language in Plessy v. Ferguson contrary to this finding is rejected.
  22. inherently
    in an essential manner
    Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.
  23. disposition
    an attitude of mind that favors one alternative over others
    This disposition makes unnecessary any discussion whether such segregation also violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
  24. denial
    the act of refusing to comply, as with a request
    We have now announced that such segregation is a denial of the equal protection of the laws.
  25. docket
    a temporally organized plan for matters to be attended to
    In order that we may have the full assistance of the parties in formulating decrees, the cases will be restored to the docket, and the parties are requested to present further argument on Questions 4 and 5 previously propounded by the Court for the reargument this Term.
  26. enjoin
    issue an injunction
    They brought this action in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas to enjoin enforcement of a Kansas statute which permits, but does not require, cities of more than 15,000 population to maintain separate school facilities for Negro and white students.
  27. pursuant
    in conformance to or agreement with
    Pursuant to that authority, the Topeka Board of Education elected to establish segregated elementary schools.
  28. statutory
    relating to or created by regulations
    They brought this action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of South Carolina to enjoin enforcement of provisions in the state constitution and statutory code which require the segregation of Negroes and whites in public schools.
  29. diligence
    a hard-working effort
    The court found the Negro school inferior in physical plant, curricula, and transportation, and ordered the defendants forthwith to provide substantially equal curricula and transportation and to "proceed with all reasonable diligence and dispatch to remove" the inequality in physical plant.
  30. remand
    refer a matter or legal case back to another authority
    This Court vacated the District Court's judgment and remanded the case for the purpose of obtaining the court's views on a report filed by the defendants concerning the progress made in the equalization program.
  31. rectify
    set straight or right
    On remand, the District Court found that substantial equality had been achieved except for buildings and that the defendants were proceeding to rectify this inequality as well.
  32. intimate
    imply as a possibility
    The Chancellor's decree was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Delaware, which intimated, however, that the defendants might be able to obtain a modification of the decree after equalization of the Negro and white schools had been accomplished.
  33. writ
    a legal document issued by a court or judicial officer
    The defendants, contending only that the Delaware courts had erred in ordering the immediate admission of the Negro plaintiffs to the white schools, applied to this Court for certiorari. The writ was granted, 344 U.S. 891.
  34. ordain
    order by virtue of superior authority; decree
    It ordains that no State shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, or deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
  35. injunction
    a judicial remedy to prohibit a party from doing something
    In the Cummin case, Negro taxpayers sought an injunction requiring the defendant school board to discontinue the operation of a high school for white children until the board resumed operation of a high school for Negro children.
Created on February 21, 2017 (updated September 10, 2019)

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