In the United States, the transformation from segregation to integration in public schools did not happen overnight.From Plessy v Ferguson in 1896 to Brown v Board of Education in 1954, a change in perception of race relations was slowly making its way to the education system. Over time, minorities were making headway into receiving equal opportunity to attend the school of their choice. What started as a trickle of hope turned into a deluge of reality due to the courage and perseverance of students and legal experts alike. The major legal decisions affecting education are presented here.
6.01 Homer Adolph Plessy v. J. H. Ferguson in 1896
Homer A. Plessy challenged an 1890 Louisiana Law that required separate train cars for Black Americans and White Americans. The Supreme Court held that separate but equal facilities for White and Black railroad passengers did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Significance: Plessy v. Ferguson established the "separate but equal" doctrine that would become the constitutional basis for segregation.
Justice John Marshall Harlan, the lone dissenter in Plessy, argued that forced segregation of the races stamped Blacks with a badge of inferiority. That same line of argument would become a decisive factor in the Brown v. Board decision.
6.02 Berea College v. Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1908
A significant case argued before the United States Supreme Court that upheld the rights of states to prohibit private educational institutions chartered as corporations from admitting both black and white students. Like the related Plessy v. Ferguson case, it was also marked by a strongly worded dissent by John Marshall Harlan. The ruling also is a minor landmark on the nature of corporate personhood.
Significance: The NAACP became the primary tool for the legal attack on segregation, eventually trying the Brown v. Board of Education case.
6.03 Gong Lum v. Rice in 1927
Gong Lum v. Rice is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that the exclusion on account of race of a child of Chinese ancestry from a state high school did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The decision effectively approved the exclusion of minority children from schools reserved for whites.
Significance: The Court applied the "separate but equal" formulation of Plessy v. Ferguson to the public schools.
6.04 Murray v. Person in 1935
Murray v. Pearson was a Maryland Court of Appeals decision which found "the state has undertaken the function of education in the law, but has omitted students of one race from the only adequate provision made fro it, and omitted them solely because of their color." On January 15, 1936, the court affirmed the lower court ruling which ordered the university to immediately integrate its student population.
Significance: The decision of the Court of Appeals was never taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, and as such the ruling was not binding outside of Maryland; the Supreme Court addressed the same issue in 1938 in Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada. The NAACP's legal strategy of attacking segregation by demanding equal access to public facilities that could not be easily duplicated was followed in later lawsuits with mixed results
6.05 State ex rel. Lloyd Gaines v. Canada in 1938
The Supreme Court decided in favor of Lincoln University graduate Lloyd Gains, an African- American student who been refused admission to the University of Missouri Law School.
Significance: This case set a precedent for other states to attempt to “equalize” Black school facilities, rather than integrate them. The Court held that the state must furnish Gains “Within its borders facilities for legal education substantially equal to those which the state there offered for the persons of the white race, whether or not other Negroes sought the same opportunity.”
Additionally, the ruling helped to create the Lincoln University School of Law which was opened from 1939 to 1955.
6.06 State ex rel. Bluford v. Canada in 1941
n a case similar to the Gaines decision, the Missouri State Supreme Court allowed the University of Journalism to deny admission to Lucile Bluford if another school is available for black students. This reinforced the NAACP’s legal strategy to continue to attack Jim Crow laws on a financial basis by forcing states to create and construct facilities to accommodate segregation policies.
Significance: the Bluford decision was responsible for creating the Lincoln University School of Journalism in 1942; the first journalism program at an Historically Black College University (HBCU). It would remain the only program of its kind at an HBCU for the next 25 years.
6.07 Sipuel v. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma in 1948
Sipuel v. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma is a United States Supreme Court case involving racial segregation toward African Americans by the University of Oklahoma’s and the application of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
A unanimous Supreme Court held that Lois Ada Sipuel could not be denied entrance to a state law school solely because of her race.
Significance: The Court ruled denial of entrance to a state law school solely on the basis of race.
Additionally, the reputation of Thurgood Marshall, an NAACP attorney, was bolstered by the victorious decision and Marshall later went on to become the first African –American Supreme Court Justice.
6.08 Sweatt v. Painter in 1950
The Supreme Court held that the University of Texas Law School must admit an African- American student, Heman Sweatt. The University of Texas Law School was far superior in its offerings and resources to the separate Black law school, which had been hastily established in a downtown basement.
The Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision, saying that the separate school failed to qualify, both because of quantitative differences in facilities and intangible factors, such as its isolation from most of the future lawyers with whom its graduates would interact.
Significance: The Supreme Court held that Texas failed to prove separate but equal education, prefiguring the future opinion in Brown that “separate but equal is inherently unequal.” The court held that, when considering graduate education, intangibles must be considered as part of “substantive equality.”
6.09 McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents in 1950
The Supreme Court invalidated the University of Oklahoma’s requirement that a Black student, admitted to a graduate program unavailable to him at the state’s Black school, sit in separate sections of or in spaces adjacent to the classroom, library, and cafeteria.
Significance: The Supreme Court held that these restrictions were unconstitutional because it interfered with his “ability to study, to engage in discussions, and exchange views with other students, and in general, to learn his profession.”
6.10 Brown v. Board of Education in 1954
The Court overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, and declared that racial segregation in public schools violated the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
That same day, the Court held that racial segregation in the District of Columbia public schools violated the Due Process clause of the 5th Amendment in Bolling v. Sharpe. The Court scheduled arguments on remedy in Brown for October but eventually put them off until April of 1955.
Significance: The Court ruled that state-sanctioned segregation of public schools was a violation of the 14th Amendment and was, therefore, unconstitutional. In the wake of the decision, the District of Columbia and some school districts in the border states began to desegregate their schools voluntarily.
State legislatures in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia adopted resolutions of "interposition and nullification" that declared the Court's decision to be "null, void, and no effect." Various southern legislatures passed laws that imposed sanctions on anyone who implemented desegregation, and enacted school closing plans that authorized the suspension of public education, and the disbursement of public funds to parents to send their children to private schools.