‘With an Even Hand’: Brown v. Board of Education – Before, During, and After
When one undertakes to administer justice, it must be with an even hand, and by rule; what is done for one, must be done for everyone in equal degree.
Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush, 1803
Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh / 02.06.2017
Ruby Bridges, 1960. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram and Sun Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court issued a decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, declaring that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” This decision was pivotal to the struggle for racial desegregation in the United States. This exhibition commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of this landmark judicial case. The title quotes Robert L. Carter, one of the counsel representing the plaintiffs. In his oral argument before the Supreme Court on December 9, 1952, Carter argued against the constitutionality of racial segregation in public schools and stated: “It is our position that any legislative or governmental classification must fall with an even hand on all persons similarly situated.”
“With an Even Hand” is divided into three sections. The exhibition examines precedent-setting court cases that laid the ground work for the Brown v. Board decision, explores the Supreme Court argument and the public’s response to it, and closes with an overview of this profound decision’s aftermath. The exhibition features more than one hundred items from the Library’s extensive holdings on this subject, including books, documents, photographs, personal papers, manuscripts, maps, music, films, political cartoons, and prints. A film compilation captures the historic events and highlightsmedia coverage of the struggle for desegregation.
The exhibition includes a presentation of Voices of Civil Rights, a joint project between the Library of Congress, AARP, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR). Over the next year, the project will collect and preserve thousands of personal stories, oral histories, photographs, and personal artifacts of the Civil Rights Movement in America. The collection will form the world’s largest archive of personal accounts of America’s struggle for justice and equality and will be permanently housed at the Library of Congress.
A Century of Racial Segregation
An elementary school in Hurlock, Maryland, ca. 1935. Gelatin silver print. Visual Material from the NAACP Records / Library of Congress
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines “segregation” as “separation, for special treatment, of individuals or items from a larger group.” In the United States, during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the term refers to the separation of individuals based on race. It defines “integration” as “the incorporation, on an equal basis, into society or an organization of individuals of different groups.” In U.S. political history, integration refers to the effort to end racial separation or discrimination based on law or custom.
After the abolition of slavery in the United States, three Constitutional amendments were passed to grant newly freed African Americans legal status: the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, the Fourteenth provided citizenship, and the Fifteenth guaranteed the right to vote. In spite of these amendments and civil rights acts to enforce the amendments, between 1873 and 1883 the Supreme Court handed down a series of decisions that virtually nullified the work of Congress during Reconstruction. Regarded by many as second-class citizens, blacks were separated from whites by law and by private action in transportation, public accommodations, recreational facilities, prisons, armed forces, and schools in both Northern and Southern states. In 1896 the Supreme Court sanctioned legal separation of the races by its ruling in H.A. Plessy v. J.H. Ferguson, which held that separate but equal facilities did not violate the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.
Beginning in 1909, a small group of activists organized and founded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). They waged a long struggle to eliminate racial discrimination and segregation from American life. By the middle of the twentieth century their focus was on legal challenges to public-school segregation. Two major victories before the Supreme Court in 1950 led the NAACP toward a direct assault on Plessy and the so-called “separate-but-equal” doctrine.
Imprisoned for Teaching Free Blacks
Margaret Crittenden Douglass. Educational Laws of Virginia; The Personal Narrative of Mrs. Margaret Douglass, a Southern Woman, Who Was Imprisoned for One Month in the Common Jail of Norfolk, under the Laws of Virginia, for the Crime of Teaching Free Colored Children to Read. Page 2. Boston: John P. Jewett and Co., 1854. / Library of Congress
The prohibition of education for African Americans had deep roots in American history. According to the 1847 Virginia Criminal Code: “Any white person who shall assemble with slaves, [or] free negroes . . . for the purpose of instructing them to read or write, . . . shall be punished by confinement in the jail . . . and by fine . . .” Under this code, Margaret Douglass, of Norfolk, Virginia, a former slaveholder, was arrested, imprisoned, and fined when authorities discovered that she was teaching “free colored children” of the Christ’s Church Sunday school to read and write. In her defense, Mrs. Douglass noted that she was not an abolitionist, and did not engage in undermining the institutions of the South.
Upholding School Segregation: The Roberts Case
Charles Sumner. Equality Before the Law: Unconstitutionality of Separate Colored Schools in Massachusetts. Washington: F. & J. Rives & Geo. A. Bailey, 1870. / Library of Congress
Five-year-old Sara Roberts was forced to walk past several white schools to reach the “colored” primary school. Her father, Benjamin Roberts, a black printer, filed a lawsuit against the city of Boston to integrate public schools. In 1849 reformer and future U.S. Senator Charles Sumner represented Roberts and challenged school segregation in the Boston court. Separate schools for African Americans, he argued, in effect branded “a whole race with the stigma of inferiority and degradation.” The Massachusetts Supreme Court, however, upheld segregation in a widely cited ruling. Influential Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw noted that Boston’s separate schools possessed substantially equal facilities and declared that school integration would only increase racial prejudice.
The Fourteenth Amendment
Stephen Field to Salmon Chase, June 30, 1866. Page 2. Holograph letter. / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which allowed the Federal Government to protect the civil rights of individuals, including African Americans, against state encroachment, was ratified in 1868. The amendment also defined national citizenship and extended it to former slaves freed by the Civil War. This 1866 letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase is from Associate Justice Stephen J. Field, whose judicial opinions would significantly influence subsequent interpretations of the amendment. Field termed the amendment, which had recently been passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification, “just what we need” and said it showed that “the American people do not intend to give up all that they have gained by the war.”
On July 28, 1868, former slaves became citizens when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified. The Fourteenth Amendment also required the states to guarantee all persons the equal protection of the law. With its broadly phrased language, the Fourteenth Amendment continues to provide a basis for civil rights claims in the United States.
Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896
Phillip B. Kurland. Landmark Briefs and Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States: Constitutional Law. Volume 13. Arlington, Virginia: University Publications of America, Inc., 1975. / Law Library, Library of Congress (3) Available from LexisNexis®, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.
By the time Homer A. Plessy, an octoroon (one-eighth Negro blood), who lived in New Orleans, challenged that city’s right to segregate public transportation by riding in a Whites Only rail car, the constitutional amendments, passed after the Civil War and written to provide protections and rights for Negro citizens, had been eroded. The Louisiana state courts ruled against Plessy, and his subsequent appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court was denied in 1896. The impact of Plessy was to relegate blacks to second-class citizenship. They were separated from whites by law and by private action in transportation, public accommodations, recreational facilities, churches, cemeteries and school in both Northern and Southern states.
The 1896 Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson ruled that separate, but equal, facilities for blacks and whites were permitted under the Fourteenth Amendment. This decision made separate schools for blacks constitutional even though, in reality, equality did not exist. For example in black schools, salaries for teachers, supplies for schools, and transportation for students were much inferior to those provided for white students. In many cases, such as high schools for blacks, no public facilities existed at all.
The National Negro Committee, 1909
Platform adopted by the National Negro Committee, 1909. NAACP Records / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
In 1908 socialist William English Walling published an exposé about a bloody race riot in Springfield, Illinois. As a result, in January 1909, an interracial group assembled in his apartment to discuss proposals for an organization that would advocate the civil and political rights of African Americans. The group decided to issue a “call” for a national conference on the centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth, February 12, 1909. As a result of the “call,” the National Negro Conference was held in New York on May 31 and June 1, 1909. At the second annual meeting, May 12, 1910, the Committee adopted the formal name of the organization—the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Among the “first and immediate steps” listed at the bottom of this founding document is “That there be equal educational opportunities for all and in all the States, and that public school expenditure be the same for Negro and white child.”
The Pink Franklin Case
Albert Pillsbury to NAACP Secretary Mary White Ovington, July 26, 1910. Typed letter. NAACP Records / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
The NAACP undertook its first major legal case in 1910 by defending Pink Franklin, a black South Carolina sharecropper accused of murder. When Franklin left his employer after receiving an advance on his wages, a warrant was sworn for his arrest under an invalid state law. Armed policemen arrived at Franklin’s cabin before dawn to serve the warrant without stating their purpose and a gun battle ensued, killing one officer. Franklin was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death. The NAACP interceded, and Franklin’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Eventually, he was set free in 1919. In this letter to Mary White Ovington, Albert Pillsbury, an attorney and NAACP supporter, recommends the appeal to South Carolina Governor Martin F. Ansel.
Buchanan v. Warley
In the Supreme Court of the United States, October Term, 1916 [no.231] Charles H. Buchanan v. William Warley. Pamphlet. NAACP Records / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
The NAACP sought out cases that infringed on the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments in order to set legal precedents and ultimately secure the constitutional rights of African Americans. An early victory was Buchanan v. Warley, a case involving residential segregation in Louisville, Kentucky. Moorfield Storey, the NAACP’s first president and a constitutional attorney, argued the case before the U.S. Supreme Court in April 1917. The Court reversed the decision of the Kentucky Court of Appeals, ruling that the Louisville ordinance violated the Fourteenth Amendment. As a result of the ruling, whites resorted to private restrictive covenants, in which property owners agreed to sell or rent to whites only. The Supreme Court declared this practice unconstitutional in Shelley v. Kraemer (1948). Buchanan v. Warley was cited in the Brown decision to challenge the legality of segregated public schools.
During reconstruction, the period that followed the Civil War, southern states passed laws that restricted the rights of African Americans. These so-called “Black Codes” even allowed white judges to force former slaves and their children to return to work on the plantations where they had been held in bondage before the Civil War. Outraged Northerners in Congress passed legislation overturning these laws and created the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution in order to protect equal rights for all.
Separate and Unequal
Left: Broken school bus in Louisa County, Virginia. Visual Materials from the NAACP Records / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
Right: School building in Louisa County, Virginia. Visual Materials from the NAACP Records / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
The 1896 court ruling in Plessy v Ferguson ushered in an era of “separate but equal” facilities and treatment for blacks and whites. In the area of education, it was felt that the children of former slaves would be better served if they attended their own schools and in their own communities. These images of schools for black students show that facilities were separate but never equal.
Left: School building in Camden, Massachusetts. Visual Materials from the NAACP Records / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
Right: Group of African American students in Seat Pleasant, Maryland. Visual Materials from the NAACP Records / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
The term “Jim Crow” came from a song in a minstrel show in the 1830s. Blackening his face in order to resemble an African American, a performer sang and danced a routine making fun of a silly black person, called “Jim Crow.” Gradually this character’s name came to stand for segregation and discrimination against African Americans in the late nineteenth century. The “Jim Crow” laws deprived African Americans of their civil rights and defined blacks as inferior.
Chief Strategist Charles H. Houston
Charles H. Houston, (1895–1950), ca. 1940. Gelatin silver print. / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Charles Hamilton Houston was the chief strategist of the NAACP’s legal campaign that culminated in the Brown decision. Born in Washington, D.C., he graduated from Amherst College, in 1915. In 1923 he became the first African American to earn a Doctor of Juridical Science degree at Harvard, where he studied under Felix Frankfurter. Houston intermittently practiced law as a partner in Houston & Houston, the prestigious firm his father founded in 1892. In 1924 he joined the faculty of Howard University Law School, and was appointed Vice Dean in 1929. By 1932 he had transformed the law school from a part-time evening school to a fully accredited institution that trained a cadre of civil rights attorneys. In 1935 the NAACP hired Houston as its first full-time salaried Special Counsel and created the Legal Department under his supervision. Although he returned to private practice in 1938, Houston continued to advise the NAACP until his death on April 22,1950.
The NAACP Legal Team, 1933
Walter White, NAACP Executive Secretary, with attorneys Charles Houston, James G. Tyson, Leon A. Ransom, and Edward P. Lovett, 1933. Gelatin silver print. Visual Materials from the NAACP Records / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
Charles Houston was the Vice Dean of the Howard University law School before becoming NAACP special counsel in 1935. Leon Ransom was a professor at the Howard Law School. Edward Lovett and James Tyson were graduates. Lovett also worked for the firm of Houston & Houston in Washington, D.C. The entire team collaborated to plan and litigate desegregation cases. Pictured in this image are NAACP attorneys, with the exception of Walter White, who is the executive secretary of the NAACP, from 1931–1955.
Prominent NAACP Lawyer William Hastie
William Hastie, Chairman of the National Legal Committee, NAACP, n.d. Gelatin silver print. Visual Materials from the NAACP Records, Prints and Photographs Division / Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
William Henry Hastie (1904–1976), civil rights attorney, public official, and federal judge, was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, on November 17, 1904. Hastie followed in his cousin Charles Houston’s footsteps by attending Amherst College and Harvard Law School, where he studied with Felix Frankfurter, receiving a Bachelor of Law in 1930 and a Doctor of Juridical Science in 1933. Between degrees, Hastie joined Houston & Houston and the faculty of Howard University Law School, becoming Dean in 1939. During the 1930’s he began his tenure with the NAACP as a strategic advisor and counsel. He also served as Chairman of the Legal Committee from 1939–1949 and on the Board of Directors of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund from 1941–1968. In 1949, Hastie was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. In 1954 and 1967, he was considered for the Supreme Court.
Murray v. Maryland, 1936
Thurgood Marshall and Charles Houston with their client Donald Gaines Murray during court proceedings, ca. 1935. Gelatin silver print. Visual Materials from the NAACP Records, Prints and Photographs Division / Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
While practicing law in Baltimore, Thurgood Marshall worked diligently to amass black teachers’ salary cases for the NAACP. He also urged Houston to take on Murray v. Maryland, a stronger prospect than the Hocutt case. The plaintiff, Donald G. Murray was a highly qualified Amherst graduate who had been denied entry to the University of Maryland Law School. In 1935 Houston consented and argued the case with Marshall in Baltimore City Court before Judge Eugene O’Dunne. The Judge ruled that Murray had been rejected solely on the basis of race and ordered the University to admit him. Murray became the first black graduate of the University’s law school in 1938.
The Garland Fund and Margold Report
Nathan R. Margold. Preliminary Report to the Joint Committee Supervising the Expenditure of the 1930 Appropriation by the American Fund for Public Service, . Page 2. NAACP Records / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
In 1922 Charles Garland, a student at Harvard College, donated $800,000 to establish The American Fund for Public Service, a foundation dedicated to radical social reform. The fund, generally known as the Garland Fund, awarded a $100,000 grant to the NAACP in for the employment of a special counsel to study the legal status of African Americans and plan a legal campaign. The NAACP hired Nathan Margold, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, on the endorsement of Felix Frankfurter and Charles H. Houston. Margold focused his report on an assessment of discrimination in public schools. He advised the NAACP to“boldly challenge the constitutional validity” of underfunded black schools as a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Campaign Against Discrimination in Education
Memorandum for the Joint Committee of the NAACP and the American Fund for Public Service, Inc. from Charles H. Houston, October 26, 1934. NAACP Records / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
Nathan Margold resigned from the NAACP in 1933 to join the Interior Department as a solicitor. In 1934, the Joint Committee of the NAACP and the American Fund for Public Service retained Charles H. Houston on a part-time basis to direct a legal campaign against discrimination in education and interstate transportation. Houston reviewed the Margold Report, then composed this memorandum, in which he advocated using the scant $10,000 funds available to fight “the more acute issue of discrimination in education.” Houston diverged from Margold by delaying a direct strike on public schools, instead attacking state graduate and professional schools. His devised systematic assault would “us[e] the court as a laboratory” to develop a succession of test cases and gradually chip away at the “separate but equal” doctrine.
Progress of the Hocutt v. Wilson case, 1933
Conrad O. Pearson to NAACP Executive Secretary Walter White reporting on the progress of the Hocutt v. Wilson case, March 31, 1933. Typed letter. NAACP Records / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
In 1933 the NAACP undertook Hocutt v. Wilson, the first test case involving segregation in higher education. The plaintiff was Thomas R. Hocutt, a student at the North Carolina College for Negroes, who had been denied admission to the University of North Carolina’s School of Pharmacy. Attorneys Conrad O. Pearson and Cecil McCoy appealed to the NAACP for assistance after filing a law suit. Charles Houston recommended William Hastie to direct the litigation. According to Pearson, “the white Bar [in attendance] was unanimous in its praise,” of Hastie’s and his colleagues’ trial performance, but the case was undermined by the North Carolina College President’s refusal to release Hocutt’s transcript.
Integrating University of Missouri Law School
Charles H. Houston to Walter White reporting on the progress of Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, May 24, 1938. Autograph letter. NAACP Records / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
Charles Houston, NAACP Special Counsel, targeted law schools. He was optimistic that based on their own experience, white judges would reject the unequal training for black attorneys. After winning the Murray case, Houston worked with Marshall and Sidney Redmond on Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada. In 1935 the University of Missouri Law School denied entry to Lloyd Gaines, an honor graduate of Lincoln University (Mo.), offering to build a law school at Lincoln or pay Gaines’s tuition at an out-of-state school. Houston and Redmond argued the case before the U.S. Supreme court in 1938. The Court ruled that Missouri must offer Gaines an equal facility within its borders or admit him to the University’s law school. In response, the State legislature tried to erect a makeshift law school inciting Houston to renew litigation. Meanwhile, Gaines disappeared, abruptly ending the case. His fate remains a mystery.
NAACP Leaders Joel and Arthur Spingarn
Arthur Spingarn. Gelatin silver print. Visual Materials from the NAACP Records / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
The favorable publicity generated by the Pink Franklin case attracted new supporters to the NAACP. Among them were Joel E. Spingarn, chairman of Comparative Literature at Columbia University, and his brother, Arthur, a lawyer, shown in this photograph. In January 1911, the NAACP organized its first branch in Harlem, New York with Joel’s help. The branch established a vigilance committee, which became the National Legal Committee, to deal “with injustice in the courts as it affects the Negro.” Arthur worked pro bono because the NAACP could not afford to hire attorneys on a regular basis and was often able to convince other prominent attorneys to volunteer their services. Arthur served as the chairman of the National Legal Committee until 1939. The members of the Committee also included Felix Frankfurter and Charles Houston.
Founding of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
Thurgood Marshall to Arthur B. Spingarn and Walter White concerning the founding of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, July 27, 1939. Memorandum. NAACP Records / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
In 1939 the Treasury Department refused to grant tax-exempt status to the NAACP because of a perceived conflict between the Association’s litigation and lobbying activities. In response, the NAACP created its Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., as a non-profit separate arm to litigate cases and raise money exclusively for the legal program. It shared board members and office space with the NAACP. Arthur Spingarn was president of both organizations. Thurgood Marshall served concurrently as the Fund’s director and NAACP Special Counsel. He hired a new team of gifted young lawyers to work for the Fund, including Robert L. Carter, Jack Greenberg, Constance Baker Motley, and Franklin Williams. The Legal Defense Fund severed ties with the NAACP in 1957 but retained its original name.
George W. McLaurin Segregated to the Anteroom
George W. McLaurin, 1948. Gelatin silver print. Visual Materials from the NAACP Records / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
George W. McLaurin, a veteran school teacher living in Oklahoma applied to the all-white University of Oklahoma to pursue an advance degree in education in 1948. His application was rejected because Oklahoma statutes made it illegal for blacks and whites to attend the same school. McLaurin filed a complaint against the University on the state court level and won. He was allowed to attend classes but not with his fellow students. This photograph shows how he was segregated to the anteroom of a classroom in 1948 after his admission. In 1950, McLaurin filed suit with the and U.S. Supreme Court and won. The case paved the way for the Brown v. Board of Education cases.
Press Conference for the Sweatt Case
Robert Carter (right), Heman Sweatt (center), and NAACP Administrator Roy Wilkins (left) during a press conference interview at the NAACP’s New York City headquarters, ca. 1950. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Thurgood Marshall hired Robert L. Carter as a legal assistant at the Legal Defense Fund in 1944 and promoted him to assistant counsel in 1945. Carter graduated from Lincoln University (Pa.), Howard Law School, and earned a Master of Laws from Columbia University. He helped to prepare briefs in the McLaurin and Sweatt cases, and argued McLaurin in Oklahoma and before the Supreme Court. Carter later became Marshall’s key aide on the Brown litigation. He recommended the social science strategy that became a crucial factor in the Brown decision. He also wrote the brief for the Brown case and delivered the argument before the Supreme Court. He served as the NAACP’s General Counsel from 1956 to 1968. In 1972 President Nixon appointed Carter to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, where he still presides as a judge.
The Henderson, McLaurin and Sweatt Cases
Complete Text of U. S. Supreme Court Decisions: The Henderson Case, The McLaurin Case, The Sweatt Case. Pittsburgh: The Pittsburgh Courier, 1950. Pamphlet. NAACP Records / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
The Legal Defense Fund waited twelve years to pursue two precedent-setting cases before the Supreme Court. In 1946 the University of Texas Law School denied entry to Heman Sweatt and proposed a makeshift law school for him in the basement of a building near all-black Prairie View University. In 1948 George McLaurin, a teacher, applied to the University of Oklahoma to pursue his doctorate. The University admitted McLaurin but segregated him from white students. The Court also considered another case, Henderson v. United States, which involved segregated dining cars on interstate trains. On June 5, the Court ruled in favor of all three plaintiffs. In Sweatt and McLaurin, the Court held that intangible factors could create educational inequality. These factors included the Texas Law School’s superior reputation, faculty, and alumni network. The Court’s decisions in these cases weakened the structure of legalized segregation.
Twentieth Annual Session of the NAACP
Cole, photographer. Twentieth Annual Session of the NAACP in Cleveland, Ohio, June 26, 1929. Gelatin silver print. Visual Materials from the NAACP Records / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
In 1929, the annual conference of the NAACP convened in Cleveland to mark the Association’s twentieth anniversary. The NAACP had much to celebrate. It had launched a successful anti-lynching crusade; won important legal battles; and organized 325 branches. The Crisis, the Association’s official organ, was the leading black periodical with a circulation of more than 100,000. Among the NAACP officials seated in the front row (left to right) are W.E.B. Du Bois, editor of The Crisis; James Weldon Johnson, NAACP Executive Secretary, 1920–1930; Robert Bagnall, Director of Branches; Daisy Lampkin, Regional Field Secretary; Walter White, Assistant Secretary, 1918–1929; William Pickens, Field Secretary; and Arthur Spingarn, Chairman of the Legal Committee.
An African American School House
Marion Post Wolcott, photographer. African American School House near Summerville, South Carolina, 1938. Gelatin silver print. FSA-OWI Photograph Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
This photograph shows the condition of many African American schools in the first decades of the twentieth century. Many states simply did not allocate enough funds to provide “equal” schools in the separate black schools. In South Carolina, the resulting inadequate condition for black children led to the Briggs v. Elliot case in 1954. The Briggs case would become one of the five included in the Brown decision.
Brown v. Board of Education
Three lawyers confer at the Supreme Court, 1953. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and its legal offspring, the Legal Defense and Educational Fund, developed a systematic attack against the doctrine of “separate but equal.” The campaign started at the graduate and professional educational levels. The attack culminated in five separate cases gathered together under the name of one of them—Oliver Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.
Aware of the gravity of the issue and concerned with the possible political and social repercussions, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case argued on three separate occasions in as many years. The Court weighed carefully considerations involving adherence to legal precedent, social-science findings on the negative effects of segregation, and the marked inferiority of the schools that African Americans were forced to attend.
The Supreme Court announced its unanimous decision on May 17, 1954. It held that school segregation violated the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The following year the Court ordered desegregation “with all deliberate speed.”
Kenneth B. Clark’s “Doll Test” Notebook
Dr. Kenneth B. Clark / Chicago Urban League Records, University of Illinois at Chicago Library
During the 1940s, psychologists Kenneth Bancroft Clark and his wife, Mamie Phipps Clark designed a test to study the psychological effects of segregation on black children. In 1950 Kenneth Clark wrote a paper for the White House Mid-Century Conference on Children and Youth summarizing this research and related work that attracted the attention of Robert Carter of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Carter believed that Clark’s findings could be effectively used in court to show that segregation damaged the personality development of black children. On Carter’s recommendation, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund engaged Clark to provide expert social science testimony in the Briggs, Davis, and Delaware cases. Clark also co-authored a summation of the social science testimony delivered during the trials that was endorsed by thirty-five leading social scientists. The Supreme Court specifically cited Clark’s 1950 paper in the Brown decision.
Kenneth and Mamie tried to demonstrate the negative effects of segregation on black children. They developed a test using four dolls, identical except for the skin color. When asked which doll they liked best, most of the black children chose the white doll. After the testing was completed, Clark concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” caused African American children to develop a senses of inferiority and self-hatred. The results of the tests were used during court cases, including Brown v. Board, to show that segregation damaged the personality development of black children.
Dr. Kenneth Clark Conducting the “Doll Test”
Gordon Parks, photographer. Dr. Kenneth Clark conducting the “Doll Test” with a young male child, 1947. Gelatin silver print. / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
In the “doll test,” psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark used four plastic, diaper-clad dolls, identical except for color. They showed the dolls to black children between the ages of three and seven and asked them questions to determine racial perception and preference. Almost all of the children readily identified the race of the dolls. However, when asked which they preferred, the majority selected the white doll and attributed positive characteristics to it. The Clarks also gave the children outline drawings of a boy and girl and asked them to color the figures the same color as themselves. Many of the children with dark complexions colored the figures with a white or yellow crayon. The Clarks concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” caused black children to develop a sense of inferiority and self-hatred. This photograph was taken by Gordon Parks for a 1947 issue of Ebony magazine.
Reading Lesson in Washington, D.C.
Marjory Collins. Reading lesson in African American elementary school in Washington, D.C., 1942. Gelatin silver print. FSA-OWI Photograph Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
As the nation’s capital became more and more populated by blacks in the first half of the twentieth century, the schools in District of Columbia became more segregated. During World War II, there was no new construction of schools and the few that existed were extremely overcrowded. After the war, new construction started but did not meet the needs of the District’s populace. Many black students were attending schools in shifts while many of the white schools sat nearly empty. This condition eventually led to the Bolling v. Sharpe case, one of the five included in the Brown v. Board of Education decision.
Kenneth B. Clark’s “Doll Test” Data Sheet
Kenneth B. Clark / Harvard University
The Clarks used printed data sheets to record the children’s responses during the “doll test,” as well as general observations. This data sheet lists the nine questions that were routinely asked. The letters “B” and “W” denote “black” and “white.” The abbreviations “LB” and “DB” denote “light brown” and “dark brown” complexions. The data reveals that Mark A., a black boy age four with a dark brown complexion, prefers the white doll and selects the white doll as the one that looks like him.
Briggs v. Elliott (South Carolina)
3rd Grade, Clarendon County, 1949 / Teaching American History in South Carolina
In 1949, the state NAACP in South Carolina sought twenty local residents in Clarendon County to sign a petition for equal education. The petition turned into a lawsuit and first name on the list was Harry Briggs. In preparation for the Briggs case, attorney Robert Carter returned to Columbia University to confer with Psychologist Otto Klineberg, who was known for his research on black students’ IQ scores. He sought Klineberg’s advice on the use of social science testimony in the pending trial to show the psychological damage segregation caused in black children. Klineberg recommended Kenneth Clark. Clark became the Legal Defense Fund’s principal expert witness. He also agreed to assist the Legal Defense Fund ‘s lawyers in the preparation of briefs and recruit other prominent social scientists to testify. This document records the depositions of two expert witnesses who participated in Briggs v. Elliott: David Krech, a social psychology professor at the University of California; and Helen Trager, a lecturer at Vassar College.
Bolling v. Sharpe, (Washington D.C.)
U. S. Supreme Court Records and Briefs, 1954 Term. Supreme Court Records and Briefs / Law Library, Library of Congress
Spottswood Thomas Bolling v. C. Melvin Sharpe, was one of the five school desegregation cases that comprised Brown. Because the District of Columbia was not a state but federal territory, the Fourteenth Amendment arguments used in the other cases did not apply. Therefore, the lawyers argued for “Due Process Clause” of the Fifth Amendment, which guaranteed equal protection of the law. The Consolidated Parents Group initiated a boycott of the black High School in Washington. D.C., which was overcrowded and dilapidated. In 1948, Charles H. Houston was hired to represent them in a law suit to make black schools more equal to white schools when Houston’s health began to fail. He recommended James Nabrit as his replacement. Nabrit was joined by fellow attorney, George E. C. Hayes in presenting arguments for the District of Columbia case.
Brief of the Attorneys for the Plaintiffs in Brown
Brief of the Attorneys for the Plaintiffs (Charles E. Bledsoe, Charles Scott, Robert L. Carter, Jack Greenberg, and Thurgood Marshall) in the case of Oliver Brown, . . .delivered in the United States Court for the District of Kansas, June 1951. Page 2. NAACP Records / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (54) Courtesy of the NAACP
Finding of Fact for the Case of Oliver Brown
Opinion and Finding of Fact for the case of Oliver Brown, et al. v. Board of Education Topeka, Shawnee County, Kansas, et al. Delivered in the United States Court for the District of Kansas, 1951. NAACP Records / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
On June 25, 1951, Robert Carter and Jack Greenberg argued the Brown case before a three judge panel in district court in Kansas. They were assisted by local NAACP attorneys Charles Bledsoe and brothers John and Charles Scott. As in Briggs, the testimony of social scientists was central to the case. The Court found “no willful, intentional or substantial discrimination” in Topeka’s schools. However, presiding Judge Walter A. Huxman appended nine “Findings of Fact” to the opinion. Fact VIII endorsed the psychological premise that segregation had a detrimental effect on black children. This was the windfall the NAACP needed to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. Briggs and Brown were the first cases to reach the Court; three others followed. The Court decided to bundle all five cases and scheduled a hearing for December 9, 1952.
Gebhart v. Belton; Gebhart v. Bulah (Delaware)
1941 fire insurance valuation for white-only Hockessin Public School No. 29 in Hockessin, Delaware. / Delaware Public Archives
In 1950 Louis Redding filed a lawsuit on behalf of Sarah Bulah to admit her daughter Shirley to a nearby white elementary school, after the Delaware Board of Education refused to allow her to board an all-white school bus that drove pass their home. In 1951, Redding filed a second suit on behalf of Ethel Belton and nine other plaintiffs, whose children were barred from attending the all-white high school in their community. That fall, Thurgood Marshall sent Jack Greenberg to Wilmington to work with Redding on the litigation. Greenberg drafted this meticulous trial memorandum the week before the hearing. In it he provides a schedule of witnesses, instructions on deposing the witnesses, and the questions to be posed. Among the witnesses listed are psychologists Kenneth Clark and Otto Klineberg.
A Court Rules: Equalization, Not Integration
United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Final Decree, . Typed memorandum. Kenneth Clark Papers / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
Spurred by a student strike, blacks in Prince Edward County, Virginia, called a lower federal court’s attention to the demonstrably unequal facilities in the county’s segregated high schools. As this “Final Decree” in Davis v. County School Board shows, they convinced the U.S. District Court that facilities for blacks were “not substantially equal” to those for whites. The Court ordered the two systems to be made equal. However, it did not abolish segregation. Therefore, the plaintiffs appealed, and the Supreme Court heard their case along with Brown v. Board.
Brief for Appellants, Brown v. Board, 1953
Brief for Appellants in the cases of Brown v. Board of Education: Oliver Brown, et al. v. Board of Education, Kansas et al.; . . . in the United States Supreme Court-October Term, 1953. Washington: GPO, 1953. Pamphlet. NAACP Records / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
Eisenhower and Davis
Ike with John W. Davis at the Herald Trib Forum 10/21, 1952. Photograph. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
As President (1953–1961), Dwight David Eisenhower took decisive action to enforce court rulings eliminating racial segregation. He would not, however, endorse the Brown decision or condemn segregation as morally wrong. John W. Davis, who had been the Democratic Party’s unsuccessful candidate for president in 1924, was the lead counsel in the South’s effort to uphold the Plessy v. Ferguson doctrine of “separate but equal” in arguments before the Supreme Court in 1953. The two men are shown meeting in New York in October 1952, shortly before Davis would endorse Eisenhower for president. Thurgood Marshall in later years would say of Davis, “He was a good man . . . who believed segregation was a good thing.”
Waiting for Courtroom Seats
Waiting for courtroom seats, 1953. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Three Lawyers Confer at the Supreme Court
Three lawyers confer at the Supreme Court, 1953. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
In preparation for the Brown court case the three lead lawyers gathered to discuss their final strategy. Pictured (left to right)are Harold P. Boulware, (Briggs case), Thurgood Marshall, (Briggs case), and Spottswood W. Robinson III (Davis case). The lawyers said that the Brown case hoped to end the “separate but equal” doctrine of the earlier Plessy decision and make it illegal to continue segregation in public schools.
The Warren Court
U. S. Supreme Court Justices, 1953. Photograph. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Pictured in this photograph are nine members of the Supreme Court that decided Brown v. Board of Education. Seated in the front row (from left) Felix Frankfurter, Hugo Black, Earl Warren, Stanley Reed, and William O. Douglas. In the back row are Tom Clark, Robert H. Jackson, Harold Burton, Sherman Minton. The photograph was taken late in 1953, after President Dwight D. Eisenhower had nominated Warren to the Court, but before the U.S. Senate had confirmed him as Chief Justice.
Brown Attorneys After the Decision
George E. C. Hayes, Thurgood Marshall, and James M. Nabrit congratulating each other, 1954. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Three lawyers, Thurgood Marshall (center), chief counsel for the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund and lead attorney on the Briggs case, with George E. C. Hayes (left) and James M. Nabrit (right), attorneys for Bolling case, standing on the steps of the Supreme Court congratulating each other after the court ruling that segregation was unconstitutional.
“Segregation in Schools is Outlawed”
The Russell Daily News (Russell, Kansas), Monday, May 17, 1954. Historic Events Newspaper Collection / Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress
The case that gave the Brown v. Board of Education decision its name originated in a Federal District Court in Topeka, Kansas. The Russell Daily News, serving the city and county of Russell, Kansas, announced the decision with a banner headline and two front page stories. On the day of the decision, this evening newspaper carried United Press reports from Washington, D.C., and from Topeka, along with the ruling and the Kansas Attorney General’s statement of intention to comply.
Humiliation and Inferiority
William Thaddeus Coleman, Jr., the 4th United States Secretary of Transportation, at a Cabinet meeting. Coleman served from March 7, 1975, to January 20, 1977. A famed civil rights lawyer, Coleman later was appointed to the United States Court of Military Commission Review, which heard appeals from the Guantanamo military commissions. / Ford Library and Museum
William T. Coleman assisted Thurgood Marshall with the planning and execution of the Brown litigation. Member of the NAACP Legal Committee, Coleman’s stellar academic record at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law School paved his way to the Supreme Court, where he became the first African American clerk in 1948. Coleman wrote this memorandum for Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter in 1949. Agreeing with Coleman’s contention that segregation was unconstitutional because it was an humiliating sign of inferiority, Frankfurter commented: “That it is such has been candidly acknowledged by numerous accounts & adjudications in those States where segregation is enforced. Only self conscious superiority or inability to slip into the other fellow’s skin can fail to appreciate that.”
Warren Works For Unanimity
Earl Warren to members of the Court, May 7, 1954. Typed memorandum. Earl Warren Papers / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (80)
Realizing that overturning school segregation in the South might entail a degree of social upheaval, Chief Justice Warren carefully engineered a unanimous vote, one without dissents or separate concurring opinions. Assigning the two opinions—one for state schools, one for federal—to himself, he circulated two draft memoranda with opinions to his colleagues. He proposed to put off the tricky question of implementation until later. He also set forth his idea that “opinions should be short, readable by the lay public, non-rhetorical, unemotional and, above all, non-accusatory.”
“A Beautiful Job”
William Douglas to Earl Warren, May 11, 1954. Holograph letter. Earl Warren Papers / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
Early in May 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren circulated draft opinions for the school desegregation cases to his colleagues on the Court. Associate Justice William O. Douglas responded enthusiastically in this handwritten note: “I do not think I would change a single word in the memoranda you gave me this morning. The two draft opinions meet my idea exactly. You have done a beautiful job.”
“A Great Day for America”
Harold H. Burton to Earl Warren, May 17, 1954. Holograph letter. Earl Warren Papers / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
Associate Justice Harold H. Burton sent this note to Chief Justice Earl Warren on the day that the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board was announced. He said, “Today I believe has been a great day for America and the Court. . . . I cherish the privilege of sharing in this.” In a tribute to Warren’s judicial statesmanship, Burton added, “To you goes the credit for the character of the opinions which produced the all important unanimity. Congratulations.”
Frankfurter’s Congratulations to Warren
Felix Frankfurter to Earl Warren, May 17, 1954. Holograph letter. Earl Warren Papers / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter, who had worked to achieve a definitive repudiation of segregation by the Supreme Court, sent this note to Chief Justice Warren on the day that the decision in Brown v. Board was publicly announced—a day that Frankfurter said would “live in glory.” Frankfurter added that the Court’s role was also distinguished by “the course of deliberation which brought about the result.”
Warren’s Reading Copy of the Brown Opinion, 1954
Earl Warren’s reading copy of Brown opinion, May 17, 1954. Earl Warren Papers / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
Chief Justice Earl Warren’s reading copy of Brown is annotated in his hand. Warren announced the opinion in the names of each justice, an unprecedented occurrence. The drama was heightened by the widespread prediction that the Court would be divided on the issue. Warren reminded himself to emphasize the decision’s unanimity with a marginal notation, “unanimously,” which departed from the printed reading copy to declare, “Therefore, we unanimously hold. . . .” In his memoirs, Warren recalled the moment with genuine warmth. “When the word ‘unanimously’ was spoken, a wave of emotion swept the room; no words or intentional movement, yet a distinct emotional manifestation that defies description.” “Unanimously” was not incorporated into the published version of the opinion, and thus exists only in this manuscript.
Celebration of the Supreme Court’s Decision
Mrs. Nettie Hunt and daughter Nikie on the steps of the Supreme Court, 1954. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
The Supreme Court’s decision on the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954 marked a culmination in a plan the NAACP had put into action more than forty years earlier—the end to racial inequality. African American parents throughout the country like Mrs. Hunt, shown here, explained to their children why this was an important moment in history.
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court declared, “in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. 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.” In other words, those students who were kept out of schools that were reserved for whites only were being denied their rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.
Segregation Ruling Explained to the Press
Thurgood Marshall explains segregation ruling to the press, 1955. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Chief counsel for the NAACP Thurgood Marshall spoke to the press in New York City on May 31 after the Supreme Court decreed an end to public school segregation as soon as feasible. At the news conference in New York City, Marshall told reporters “. . .the law had been made crystal clear” and added, “Southerners are just as law abiding as anyone else, once the law is made clear.” He was speaking after Brown II, the court’s second opinion in the Brown case, which ordered the implementation of the original ruling in a “prompt and reasonable” start towards desegregation.
Congratulatory Telegram on Brown Decision
Anson Phelps Stokes to Channing Tobias, Chairman of the NAACP, offering congratulations on the NAACP’s victory in Brown v. Board of Education. Telegram. NAACP Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (96) Courtesy of the NAACP
The NAACP’s affiliation with the philanthropic Stokes family began with J. G. Phelps Stokes, one of the organization’s founders. At the time of the Brown decision, Anson Phelps Stokes was president of the Phelps-Stokes Fund, a charitable trust that sponsored black schools and educational projects. Stokes became familiar with the racial politics of the South through his work with the Tuskegee Institute. This telegram celebrates the consensus of the Southern justices and urges the NAACP to “heartily support the court decision postponing implementing orders so that these wonderful new[s] gains may be safe guarded with minimum disturbances in a difficult situation. . . .”
Congratulatory Letter on the Brown Decision
William L. Patterson, Executive Secretary of the Civil Rights Congress, to Walter White congratulating White on the NAACP’s victory in Brown v. Board of Education, May 17, 1954. Typed letter. NAACP Records / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (95) Courtesy of the NAACP
William Patterson was an attorney and former Executive Secretary of the International Labor Defense (ILD), an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of racial minorities, political radicals, and the working class. In 1931, the ILD competed with the NAACP for the right to represent the “Scottsboro Boys,” nine black men convicted of raping two white women. The NAACP lost the bid because it lacked a full-time legal staff spurring Walter White, then head of the NAACP, to hire Charles H. Houston and set up a legal department. In this letter Patterson, head of the Civil Rights Congress, a leftist organization, attributes opposition to the Brown decision to “the demoralizing effect of segregated schools on white youth. It has made bigots out of millions who have not learned in their separate schools that there are no superior people.”
An African American Response
Crisis Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 3 | January, 1911
The multi-faceted African American response to the decision was articulated throughout the black press and in editorials published in official publications of national black organizations. Founded in 1910, The Crisis magazine, shown here, is the official organ of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In response to the decision, a special issue of The Crisis was printed to include the complete text of the Supreme Court decision, a history of the five school cases, excerpts from the nation’s press on segregation ruling, and the text of the “Atlanta Declaration,” the official NAACP response and program of action for implementing the decision.
Conferring at the Supreme Court
Louis L. Redding of Wilmington, Delaware, and Thurgood Marshall, General Counsel for the NAACP, conferring at the Supreme Court, during recess in the Court’s hearing on racial integration in public schools, 1955. Gelatin silver print. Visual Materials from the NAACP Records Photograph / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
In 1929 Louis L. Redding, a graduate of Brown University and Harvard Law School, became the first African American attorney in Delaware—the only one for more than twenty years. He devoted his practice to civil rights law and served as the counsel for the NAACP Delaware branch. In 1949 Redding won the landmark Parker case, which resulted in the desegregation of the University of Delaware. In1951, Redding and Greenberg tried two cases in Delaware’s Chancery Court: Bulah v. Gebhart and Belton v. Gebhart, which respectively concerned elementary school and high school. On April 1, 1952, Judge Collins Seitz ordered the immediate admission of black students to Delaware’s white public schools, but the local state-run-school board appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Frankfurter’s Draft Decree in Brown II, 1955
Felix Frankfurter’s draft decree in Brown II, April 8, 1955. Page 2. Typescript with emendations. Felix Frankfurter Papers / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
After the Brown opinion was announced, the Court heard additional arguments during the following term on the decree for implementing the ruling. In a draft, prepared by Felix Frankfurter, which Warren subsequently adopted, Frankfurter inserted “with all deliberate speed” in place of “forthwith,” which Thurgood Marshall had suggested to achieve an accelerated desegregation timetable. Frankfurter wanted to anchor the decree in an established doctrine, and his endorsement of it sought to advance a consensus held by the entire court. The justices thought that the decree should provide for flexible enforcement, appeal to established principles, and suggest some basic ground rules for judges of the lower courts. When it became clear that opponents of desegregation were using the doctrine to delay and avoid compliance with Brown, the Court began to express reservations about the phrase.
Topeka School Map
A map of the 1956 school district by race in Topeka, Kansas / Library of Congress
In response to requests from two Justices during the oral arguments of the implementation phase of Brown v. Board, Kansas Attorney General Harold Fatzer provided the Court with this map of the Topeka public school districts along with 1956 enrollment estimates by race. Although almost all of the schools shown were either overwhelmingly white or completely black, Fatzer argued that Topeka had not deliberately gerrymandered the districts so as to concentrate black pupils into a few districts. Also shown is a key to the map, representing the placement of students in the districts.
Southern White Liberal Reaction
Portrait of Ralph McGill done by the artist Robert Templeton in 1984. / Wikimedia Commons
Many white Southern liberals welcomed the moderate and incremental approach of the Brown implementation decree. Ralph McGill, the influential editor of the Atlanta Constitution, wrote in praise of the Court’s decision to have local school boards, in conjunction with Southern court judges, formulate and execute desegregation orders. Certain that “the problem of desegregation had to be solved at the local level,” he told Chief Justice Warren that the Court’s ruling was “one of the great statesman-like decisions of all time,” exceeding all previous decisions “in wisdom and clarity.”
Adverse Reactions to Brown
Portrait of Simon Ernest Sobeloff / United Stats Department of Justice
Challenges to legal and social institutions implicit in the Brown decision led to adverse reactions in both Northern and Southern states. U.S. Solicitor General Simon Sobeloff forwarded to Chief Justice Warren this letter from an official of the New York chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. The official attributed the impetus behind the Court’s action to “the worldwide Communist conspiracy” and claimed that the NAACP had been financed by “a Communist front.”
Time magazine, September 19, 1955. Cover. / General Collections, Library of Congress, Courtesy of Time-Life Pictures, Getty Images
After the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on May 17, 1954, and May 31, 1955, desegregating schools, Thurgood Marshall (1908–1994), was featured on the cover of Time magazine, on September 19, 1955. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Marshall graduated with honors from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. His exclusion from the University of Maryland’s Law School due to racial discrimination, marked a turning point in his life. As a result, he attended the Howard University Law School, and graduated first in his class in 1933. Early in his career he traveled throughout the South and argued thirty-two cases before the Supreme Court, winning twenty-nine. Charles H. Houston persuaded him to leave private law practice and join the NAACP legal staff in New York, where he remained from 1936 until 1961. In 1939, Marshall became the first director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Marshall as Solicitor General in 1965 and nominated him to a seat on the United States Supreme Court in 1967 from which he retired in 1991.
Barnard Elementary, Washington, D. C.
Thomas J. O’Halloran. School integration, Barnard School, Washington, D.C., 1955. Gelatin silver print. U.S. News & World Report Magazine Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
This image of an integrated classroom in the previously all white Barnard Elementary School in Washington, D.C., shows how the District’s Board of Education attempted to act quickly to carry out the Supreme Court decision to integrate schools in the area. However, it did take longer for the junior and senior high schools to integrate.
Ruby Bridges, 1960. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram and Sun Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
The “deliberate speed” called for in the Supreme Court’s Brown decision was quickly overshadowed by events outside the nation’s courtrooms. In Montgomery, Alabama, a grassroots revolt against segregated public transportation inspired a multitude of similar protests and boycotts. A number of school districts in the Southern and border states desegregated peacefully. Elsewhere, white resistance to school desegregation resulted in open defiance and violent confrontations, requiring the use of federal troops in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. Efforts to end segregation in Southern colleges were also marred by obstinate refusals to welcome African Americans into previously all-white student bodies.
By 1964, ten years after Brown, the NAACP’s focused legal campaign had been transformed into a mass movement to eliminate all traces of institutionalized racism from American life. This effort, marked by struggle and sacrifice, soon captured the imagination and sympathies of much of the nation. In many respects, the ideals expressed in Brown v. Board had inspired the dream of a society based on justice and racial equality.
Mrs. Rosa Parks Fingerprinted in Montgomery, Alabama
Mrs. Rosa Parks being fingerprinted in Montgomery, Alabama, 1956. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, forty-three, was arrested for disorderly conducted for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. Her arrest and fourteen dollar fine for violating city ordinance, led African American bus riders and others to boycott the Montgomery city buses. It also helped to establish the Montgomery Improvement Association led by a then unknown young minister from the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Martin Luther King, Jr. The boycott lasted for one year and brought the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. Martin King to the attention of the world.
Rosa Parks Arrest Record
Rosa Parks’s arrest record, December 5, 1955. Page 2. Frank Johnson Papers / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
Rosa Parks was a leader in the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, which demonstrated that segregation would be contested in many social settings. A federal district court decided that segregation on publicly operated buses was unconstitutional and concluded that, “in the Brown case, Plessy v. Ferguson has been impliedly, though not explicitly, overruled.” The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court without opinion, a common procedure it followed in the interim between 1954 and 1958.
Black Monday, 1954
Tom P. Brady. Black Monday. Title page. Winona, Mississippi: Association of Citizens’ Councils, 1955. / General Collections, Library of Congress
Following the Supreme Court’s decision on Brown v Board of Education, U.S. Representative John Bell Williams (D-Mississippi) coined the term “Black Monday” on the floor of Congress to denote Monday, May 17, 1954, the date of the Supreme Court’s decision. In opposition to the decision, white citizens’ councils formally organized throughout the south to preserve segregation and defend segregated schools. The White Citizens’ Council movement in Mississippi, led by Thomas Pickens Brady, a circuit court judge, published a handbook, Black Monday, in which the philosophy of the movement is stated, including its call for the nullification of the NAACP, the creation of a forty-ninth state for Negroes, and the abolition of public schools.
University of Alabama Students Protest Desegregation
University of Alabama Students burn desegregation literature, 1956. Gelatin silver print. / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Autherine Lucy’s dream of obtaining a degree in library science was finally realized when she officially enrolled at the all-white University of Alabama in 1956. While the court had granted her the right to attend the university, the white population seemed intent on making this impossible by staging riots. Students, adults and even groups from outside of Alabama shouted racial epithets, threw eggs, sticks and rocks, and generally attempted to block her way. Protestors, like the group pictured here, prompted the University to expel Lucy on February 6, 1956, in order to ensure her personal safety.
Autherine Lucy’s Attorneys
Thurgood Marshall and Arthur Shores, February 29, 1956. Gelatin silver print. World Wide photos. Visual Materials from the NAACP Records / Prints and Photograph Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
Autherine Lucy, the first African American student to be admitted to the University of Alabama in 1956, is shown with her attorneys Thurgood Marshall and Arthur Shore. The case went to court in 1953, and a decision to prohibit the university from rejecting Lucy based on race was reached in 1955. This decision was amended days later to apply to all African American students seeking to enter the University of Alabama. Lucy enrolled on February 3, 1956, but was expelled for her own safety three days later. Marshall and Shores went back to court but were forced to withdraw the case due to lack of support. Lucy’s expulsion was finally overturned in 1988.
Autherine Lucy’s Expulsion
Telegram. NAACP Executive Secretary Roy Wilkins to Herbert Brownell concerning the expulsion of Autherine Lucy, February 7, 1956. NAACP Records / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
A day after Autherine Lucy’s expulsion from the University of Alabama, Roy Wilkins sent this telegram to U.S. Attorney General Herbert Brownell requesting the institution of criminal contempt proceedings against all parties prohibiting Lucy from attending classes at the University. The federal government refused to intercede. Lucy’s expulsion was finally overturned in 1988 by the Board of Regents. She entered the University in earnest the following year and graduated in 1992 with a master’s degree in elementary education along with her daughter, Grazia, who was enrolled as an undergraduate.
School Integration in Clinton, Tennessee
Thomas J. O’Halloran, photographer. Clinton, Tennessee, school integration conflict, 1956. Gelatin silver print. U.S. News & World Report Magazine Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
In 1956, Clinton High School in Clinton, Anderson County, Tennessee, was set to be the first high school in the South to be integrated after the Brown decision. Integration was progressing smoothly until John Kasper, leader of the White Citizens Council and a staunch segregationist, came to town. Protests and riots ensued from that day until early in December, when several white citizens escorted the African American students to class, as shown here. One of the escorts was badly beaten afterwards. As a result of the episode the school was closed on December 4, but reopened six days later without incident.
A Classroom in Nashville After Integration
Integrated classroom in Nashville, 1957. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
While many schools throughout the south were confronted with protesters attempting to prevent integration, Miss Mary Brent, principal of the previously all white Glenn Elementary School in Nashville greets black and white students, without incident, on the first day of school.
School Dilemma—Youths taunt Dorothy Geraldine Counts in Charlotte, North Carolina, 1957. Gelatin silver print. Visual Materials from the NAACP Records / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (125B) Courtesy of the NAACP
In 1957, fifteen-year-old Dorothy Geraldine Counts and three other students became the first African American students to attend the previously all white Harding High School in Charlotte, North Carolina. They were greeted by angry white mobs who screamed obscenities and racial slurs at the African American students. Counts’s picture appeared in many newspapers as did others of black students attempting to attend white schools for the first time. Counts’s family feared for her safety and withdrew her from Harding and sent her out of state to complete high school.
Anacostia High School, Washington, D.C.
Warren K. Leffler, photographer. An integrated classroom at Anacostia High School, Washington, DC, 1957. Gelatin silver print. U.S. News & World Report Magazine Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
The Little Rock Nine
Cecil Layne, photographer. Little Rock Nine and Daisy Bates pose in living room, ca. 1957–1960. Gelatin silver print. Visual Materials from the NAACP Records / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (128) Courtesy of the NAACP
Seventeen African American students were selected to attend the all white Central High School in 1957 but by opening day the number had dwindled to nine. Pictured here with Daisy Bates, a newspaper journalist and active member in the local NAACP, are nine students, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Elizabeth Eckford, Terrace Roberts, Carlotta Walls, Gloria Ray, Jefferson Thomas, Melba Pattillo, and Minnijean Brown. Bates would become the advisor for the nine students. The day before school opened, Governor Orval Faubus called the National Guard to surround Central High, declaring “blood would run in the streets” if blacks students attempted to enter.
U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division
U.S. Troops escort African American students from Central High School, Little Rock, Arkansas, October 3, 1957. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
On September 24, Little Rock Mayor Woodrow Mann sent a special request for federal assistance to President Dwight Eisenhower. The following day nine African American students entered Central under the protection of members of the 101st Airborne Division of the U. S. Army, shown here. The Little Rock Nine, as they have become known, finished the school year in 1958. One of the students, Ernest Green graduated that year with the help of federal protection. In September 1958, Governor Faubus closed all high schools in Little Rock. They reopened in August 1959 with the protection of local police. Only four of the nine students returned.
“Fables of Faubus”
Charles Mingus. “Fables of Faubus.” Holograph music manuscript, ca. 1957. Charles Mingus Collection / Music Division, Library of Congress (131) “Fables of Faubus” by Charles Mingus, published by the Jazz Workshop, Inc. Courtesy of Sue Mingus.
Orval E. Faubus was the governor of Arkansas, who in 1957 sent out the National Guard to prevent African-American students from entering Little Rock’s Central High School. American jazz musician Charles Mingus responded to the event by composing “Fables of Faubus,” a condemnation of the action. Unfortunately, Columbia Records prohibited Mingus and fellow musician, Danny Richmond from singing the following lyrics:
Name me someone who’s ridiculous, Dannie. Governor Faubus!/ Why is he so sick and ridiculous? He won’t permit integrated schools.
Columbia reconsidered and recorded the piece in its entirety two years later.
Daisy Bates and The Little Rock Nine
Daisy Bates to Roy Wilkins on the treatment of the Little Rock Nine, December 17, 1957. Page 2. Typed letter. NAACP Records. / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
Daisy Bates, publisher of the newspaper The Arkansas State Press and president of the Arkansas NAACP Branches, led the NAACP’s campaign to desegregate the public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. Thurgood Marshall and Wiley Branton served as counsel. The school board agreed to begin the process with Central High School, approving the admission of nine black teenagers. The decision outraged many white citizens including Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus. President Eisenhower sent federal troops to Little Rock to ensure the protection of the nine students, and, on September 25, 1957, they entered the school. In the midst of the crisis, Daisy Bates wrote this letter to NAACP Executive Director Roy Wilkins to report on the students’ progress.
Segregation’s Citadel Unbreached, 1958
“Segregation’s Citadel Unbreached in 4 Years,” Washington Observer, Sunday, May 11, 1958. Newspaper map. / Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress. Copyright 1958, Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive and the Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.
At the time of the May 1954 Brown v. Board of Education,decision seventeen states and the District of Columbia had laws enforcing school segregation. By 1958, only seven states—Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana—maintained public school segregation.
Ruby Bridges, 1960. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram and Sun Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
In 1956 U.S. District Court Judge J. Skelly Wright ordered the desegregation of the New Orleans public schools. After a series of appeals, in 1960, Wright set down a plan that required the integration of the schools on a grade-per-year basis, beginning with the first grade. The School Board issued a test to black kindergartners to determine the best candidates. Six-year old Ruby Bridges was one of six children selected. Four agreed to proceed. On November 14, Bridges integrated the William Frantz Public School. In retaliation, white parents withdrew her classmates and Bridges’s father was fired from his job. Ruby completed the first grade alone with the support of Barbara Henry, a Boston teacher, and Dr. Robert Coles, a child psychiatrist. Ruby’s walk to school the first day, escorted by U.S. Marshals, inspired the 1964 Norman Rockwell painting, “The Problem We All Live With.”
School Desegregation Spreads Through South
South Carolina Desegregation Protest / Wikimedia Commons
Faced with increasing public and state legislative support for desegregation, political leaders in Southern states gradually introduced desegregation measures. By 1961, only South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi still maintained completely segregated school systems.
“Meredith Enrolls at Ole Miss”
The Birmingham News (Birmingham, Alabama), Monday, October 1, 1962. Newspaper. Historic Events Newspaper Collection / Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress
Riots erupted when James Meredith, armed with a Supreme Court order and guarded by federal marshals, enrolled at the University of Mississippi, known as “Ole Miss,” on October 1, 1962. In spite of Governor Ross Barnett’s initial defiance of federal rulings, Meredith prevailed and graduated from the university in 1963. The Birmingham News, then an evening newspaper in Alabama, a state that experienced its own civil rights woes, reported that day’s activities. Founded in 1888, the newspaper had a daily circulation of approximately 188,280 at the time.
Norman Rockwell to John A. Morsell, December 3, 1963. Typed letter. NAACP Records / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
Powerful images appearing in the news media captured the imaginations of ordinary Americans and helped enlist their sympathies in the cause of civil rights and school integration. In this letter to the NAACP, renowned illustrator Norman Rockwell offered for the organization’s use his painting “The Problem We All Live With.” The painting, which was published in Look magazine, January 14, 1964, portrayed a young African American girl, escorted by federal marshals, as she made her way through a hostile environment toward a newly integrated school. The painting was based on the ordeal of Ruby Bridges in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Federal Assistance Needed
John A. Morsell, Assistant to NAACP Executive Secretary to President John F. Kennedy requesting the assistance of the federal government in the case of James Meredith, September 21, 1962. Page 2. Typed letter. NAACP Records / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Courtesy of the NAACP
On September 10, 1962, the Supreme Court ordered the University of Mississippi to admit James Meredith, a twenty-eight year old Air Force Veteran, after a sixteen month legal battle. Governor Ross Barnett disavowed the decree and had Meredith physically barred from enrolling. President Kennedy responded by federalizing the National Guard and sending Army troops to protect Meredith. After days of violence and rioting by whites, Meredith, escorted by federal marshals, enrolled on October 1, 1962. Two men were killed in the turmoil and more than 300 injured. Because he had earned credits in the military and at Jackson State College, Meredith graduated the following August without incident.
Meredith with Constance B. Motley and Jack Greenberg
James Meredith and NAACP lawyers Constance Baker Motley and Jack Greenberg, 1962. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
On September 28, the Fifth Circuit Court found Governor Ross Barnett guilty of civil contempt for defying two earlier orders to admit James Meredith to the University of Mississippi. Meredith left the courthouse accompanied by his attorneys Constance Baker Motley and Jack Greenberg. Motley received national recognition for her defense of Meredith. A graduate of Columbia Law School, she joined the Legal Defense Fund as a law clerk in 1946 and became assistant counsel in 1949. She helped prepare the Brown briefs. Thurgood Marshall hired Greenberg as an assistant counsel directly from Columbia Law School in 1949. Greenberg worked on the Sweatt case and was co-counsel on the Parker, Brown and Delaware cases. In 1961, he succeeded Marshall as Director-Counsel of the Legal Defense Fund , serving in that capacity until 1984.
“The Ballad of Oxford, Mississippi”
Phil Ochs in the early 1960s playing his Gibson J-45. / Wikimedia Commons
Phil Ochs, a topical-protest songwriter, played a central role in the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene. “A Ballad of Oxford, Mississippi” chronicled James Meredith’s 1962 enrollment at the University of Mississippi and was first published in Broadside magazine. Despite the magazine’s small circulation, it had a strong impact on the folksong revival. The late 1962 issues contained numerous other songs about James Meredith including, for example, Bob Dylan’s Oxford Town.
Governor George Wallace at the University of Alabama
Warren K. Leffler, photographer. Governor George Wallace attempting to block integration at the University of Alabama, 1963. Gelatin silver print. U.S. News & World Report Magazine Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
This image of Governor George Wallace blocking the entrance to the University of Alabama is one of the most recognized of all the images from the civil rights period. On June 11, 1963, Wallace, surrounded by Alabama state troopers, confronted and blocked Assistant U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and the African American students from entering the university. President Kennedy had to federalize the National Guard and send them to the campus to assist with the integration process. Wallace did eventually step aside and allow the students to register.
Vivian Malone at the University of Alabama
Warren K. Leffler, photographer. Students entering Foster Auditorium to register at the University of Alabama, June 11, 1963.Gelatin silver print. U.S. News & World Report Magazine Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Vivian Malone and James Hood were the first two students to integrate the University of Alabama with the help of the National Guard, Assistant U.S. Attorney Katzenbach, and President Kennedy on June 11, 1963.
Summit Conference on Civil Rights
Summit Conference on Civil Rights. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection. / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
On the tenth anniversary of the Brown decision leaders of national organizations for blacks met in New York City to hold a Summit Conference on Civil Rights. Present (from left to right) were Bayard Rustin, civil rights activist; Jack Greenberg, Director of Counsel of the NAACP Educational and Legal Defense Fund; Whitney Young, Jr., Director of the National Urban League; James Farmer, National Director of Congress of Racial Equality; Roy Wilkins, Executive Secretary of NAACP; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; John Lewis, Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; and A. Philip Randolph, Chairman of the National Negro American Labor Council.
The Newport Folk Festival
Newport Folk Festival / Wikimedia Commons
The Newport Folk Festival quickly became a showcase for 1960s folk revival artists. One festival highlight was the afternoon Topical Songs workshop hosted by Pete Seeger. The Vanguard Records release of topical songs from the 1963 festival includes “Fighting for My Rights” by the Freedom Singers, a group associated with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
The March on Washington
March on Washington, 1954 / Wikimedia Commons
We Shall Overcome! captures one of the pivotal moments in the Civil Rights Movement, the March on Washington held on August 28, 1963. This LP was produced by the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership and issued by Folkways Records. It includes part of President Kennedy’s news conference about the event, Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and Bayard Rustin’s “Demands on the March,”speech that asked for civil rights legislation to “include public accommodations, decent housing, integrated education, and the right to vote.”
March on Washington in Life, 1963
Life magazine, September 6, 1963. Cover. General Collections / Library of Congress, Courtesy of Leonard McCombe, Time-Life Pictures, Getty Images.
African American resistance to enslavement and multiple forms of social, political, and economic inequality included slave rebellions, marches, individual protests, and legislative action in the courts. The March on Washington, August 28, 1963, was a major expression of resistance in the continuing strugglefor African American freedom in the United States. Major organizers included Bayard Rustin, civil rights activist, A. Phillip Randolph (Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters), Roy Wilkins (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), James Farmer (Congress of Racial Equality), John Lewis (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), and Dorothy Height (National Council of Negro Women).
“We Don’t Dig No Busing”
In 1971, the Supreme Court upheld legislation that caused children of different races to be transported to white schools for racial balance. The school districts spent millions of dollars each year busing minorities to white schools; however, opponents of forced integration believed that the transportation funding should have been used to improve the conditions of the poor schools.
Shown here is a recording of “We Don’t Dig No Busing,” sung by the Greer Brothers ages nine through fourteen. It was produced in 1973 by an African American recording studio, the Don Music company in Houston, Texas.
The Times They Are A-Changin
Bob Dylan in November 1963 / Wikimedia Commons
Bob Dylan’s third recording was also his last to feature topical-protest songs. In compositions such as “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” Dylan described a specific civil rights event to his growing audience, in this case focusing upon the judicial system’s inadequacies. The title track and other songs on the record such as “When the Ship Comes In” articulated a broad and defiant call for cultural change.
Obstruction and Delays in Virginia
William O. Douglas, [May 1964]. Draft per curiam opinion. William O. Douglas Papers / Manuscript Division, Library of Congress
The diehard segregationist campaign of “massive resistance” took many forms. In Virginia’s Prince Edward County, location of one of the original school-segregation cases, local authorities evaded court-ordered integration by closing the public schools and supporting new, white-only, private schools. The Supreme Court reviewed these actions in 1964. This handwritten draft ruling by Justice William O. Douglas indicates his frustration with “over a decade” of delays since Brown: “Afterward numerous opinions were written by the District Court and the Court of Appeals but our mandate in the Brown case has never been implemented.”
“Free school” in Farmville, Virginia
Thomas J. O’Halloran, photographer. Students arriving at the Free School #2 in Farmville, Prince Edward County, Virginia, 1963. Gelatin silver print. U.S. News & World Report Magazine Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
When Prince Edward County closed all of its schools in 1959 rather than integrate in accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision. The white citizens in the county formed a private all white academy where their children could continue their education. African American students were not provided public education until 1963. The Reverend Leslie Francis Griffin a member of the NAACP and the chairman of the Moton High School P.T.A. petitioned President Kennedy for support from the federal government to prepare the African American students for re-entering the public schools. As a result the Prince Edward County Free School System was created. Shown are students entering Free School #2.
Tenth Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education
Harry Briggs, Jr., Linda Brown Smith, Spottswood Bolling, Jr., and Ethel Louise Belton Brown during press conference, 1964. Gelatin silver print. New York World-Telegram and Sun Collection / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
A press conference at the Hotel Americana celebrates the tenth anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. Four of the five plaintiffs whose class action cases combined in Brown are pictured together: Harry Briggs, Jr. (Briggs v Elliot), Linda Brown Smith (Brown v Board of Education of Topeka), Spottswood Bolling, Jr. (Bolling v. Sharpe), and Ethel Louise Belton Brown (Gebhart v. Belton [Bulah] ).The fifth case was Dorothy E. Davis v County School Board of Prince Edward County, Virginia.
The New Civil Rights Movement
Save Brown v. Board of Education, 2003. Poster. / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
On April 1, 2003, several thousands gathered for a new March on Washington sponsored by The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights, and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary. BAMN, the organization’s acronym, were co-defendants in Grutter v. Bollinger, the case which disputed the University of Michigan’s admissions policy. They felt many of the gains made by minorities would be lost if the case did not uphold the Brown decision. Many of the protesters carried these signs with the phrase “Save Affirmative Action” and “Save Brown v. Board of Education.”
Bill Mauldin’s Support for Integration
Bill Mauldin (1921–2003). “What is done in our classrooms today will be reflected in the successes or failures of civilization tomorrow.” Lindly C. Baxter, 1958. Ink, crayon, and white out over pencil on layered paper. Published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 11, 1958. / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (138) © Copyright 1958 by Bill Mauldin. Reproduced online courtesy of the Mauldin Estate.
In this drawing, political cartoonist Bill Mauldin commented on the actions of Little Rock to establish private schools to circumvent the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals’ November 10, 1958, order to integrate. He used the dilapidated schoolhouse as a metaphor for the disintegration of public school systems in the 1950s. Mauldin gained public recognition for his World War II army cartoons, but when asked what the most important issue of his career had been, Mauldin replied, “The one thing that meant the most to me and that I got involved in was the whole civil rights thing in the sixties.”
Difficulty of Achieving Integration, 1960
Bill Mauldin (1921–2003). Inch by inch, 1960. Crayon, ink, blue pencil and white out over pencil on layered paper. Published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 1, 1960. / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (145) © Copyright 1960 by Bill Mauldin. Reproduced online courtesy of the Mauldin Estate.
Despite the legal mandate to integrate, school districts were slow to accommodate African American children, as Bill Mauldin metaphorically shows here with three young students working hard to open the door of “School segregation” a mere crack. At its annual meeting in 1960, the National Education Association rejected proposals to support the Supreme Court decision, instead opting for a watered-down resolution describing integration as “an evolving process.” Because of school boards’ reluctance to follow either the letter or the spirit of the law, segregation remained in effect well into the 1960s.
Slow Pace of Integration
Herb Block (1909–2001). I’m eight. I was born on the day of the Supreme Court decision, May 17, 1962. Ink, crayon, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing on layered paper. Published in the Washington Post, May 17, 1962. / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (169) © 1962 by Herblock in the Washington Post
Political cartoonist Herb Block, better known by his pen name Herblock championed civil rights throughout his career. Eight years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, in the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, he penned this cartoon expressing his dismay at the country’s slow progress toward educational integration. In his 1964 book Straight Herblock he wrote, “The racist demagogues and rulers of state fiefdoms need not send to know for whom the school bell tolls. It tolls for them.”
Herblock on Private Schools to Avoid Integration
Herb Block (1909–2001). If the government doesn’t support separate-but-equal schools for our children, it’s guilty of discrimination! February 12, 1963. Ink, crayon, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing on layered paper. Published in the Washington Post, February 12, 1963. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (168) © 1962 by Herblock in the Washington Post
Commenting on white parents who sent their children to private school to avoid integration, Herb Block wrote in Straight Herblock, “I’ll get in there and pitch for any child who is being denied schooling, whatever his race, color or religion. But when a public school is open and parents choose to send their children to a private school instead, I don’t see how those children are being denied an education or denied any rights. And it seems ironic indeed that some people in effect feel discriminated against for lack of government-supported separate-but-equal religious schools, when real victims of discrimination have finally won recognition of the fact that schools which are separate are not equal.”
Supporting Civil Rights
Herb Block (1909–2001). “And remember, nothing can be accomplished by taking to the streets,” September 6, 1963. Ink, graphite, and opaque white over graphite underdrawing on layered paper. Published in the Washington Post, September 6, 1963. / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (170) © 1963 by Herblock in the Washington Post
Herb Block applauds the growing activism of the Civil Rights Movement in this cartoon. He shows an African American practically pushed into the street by a white man, while signs on all the buildings that line the street speak of restrictions on blacks. Block’s cartoon reflects events of its time. In efforts to compel school districts to end de facto segregation in the North and to reduce school overcrowding, African American parents in Chicago, New York, New Jersey, and other areas publically demonstrated. President Kennedy, in a speech given on August 28, 1963, urged Americans to “accelerate our effort to achieve equal rights for all our citizens.”
Oliver Harrington’s Dark Laughter
Oliver W. Harrington (1912–1995). Dark laughter. Now I aint so sure I wanna get educated, 1963. Crayon, ink, blue pencil, and pencil on paper. Published in the Pittsburgh Courier, September 21, 1963. / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (172) Courtesy of Dr. Helma Harrington.
This cartoon appeared as President Kennedy announced integration of 157 city school districts, not as a milestone, but as progress “slow step by step.” Meanwhile some black children continued to live in areas without a public school system as officials attempted to bypass integration. Oliver Harrington, an influential African American cartoonist, published this image during a year of heightened interracial tension in the United States, from his home in East Berlin, Germany. This cartoon appeared in the African American newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier.
First Day of School
Vincent Smith (b. 1930). First Day of School, 1965. Etching (reprint, 1994). / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Artist Vincent Smith, once described himself as an “expressionist,” someone who experiences life on his own terms. As an African American artist, he became aware of social issues early in his career. An active member of the black arts movement in the1960s, Smith sometimes explored these issues in his work. His etching, First Day of School, shows a large crowd watching young black children on their way to school. The scene is reminiscent of attempts to integrate public schools in some areas throughout the South after the Brown decision.
Problems of “White Flight”
Herb Block (1909–2001). “ . . . One nation . . . indivisible . . . ,” February 22, 1977. Ink, graphite, and opaque white, with tonal film overlay and porous point pen over graphite underdrawing on paper. Published in the Washington Post, February 22, 1977. / Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (182) © 1977 by Herblock in the Washington Post
In this work, Herb Block reminded Americans of the divisions between public education in the inner cities and the suburbs, made more pronounced by “white flight” from urban areas after the Brown v. Board decision. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reported on February 15, 1977, that true desegregation could be achieved in urban areas only if students were bused between cities and suburbs. It argued that segregation had actually increased since 1954. Block strove to make Americans aware of the need for equality in education during his career, and bequeathed money to the United Negro College Fund in his will.