May 17, 1954: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas

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In a major civil rights victory, the U.S. Supreme Court decides in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that racial segregation in public educational facilities is unconstitutional. The decision brought an end to de jure tolerance of racial segregation. The case dealt with Linda Brown, a young African American girl who had been denied admission to her local elementary school in Topeka, Kansas, because race. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) overturned Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) that ruled “separate but equal” accommodations in railroad cars conformed to the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. That ruling was used to justify segregating all public facilities, including elementary schools.

African American lawyer (and future Supreme Court justice) Thurgood Marshall led Linda Brown’s legal and argued that the white school she attempted to attend was far superior to her black alternative and miles closer to her home. In a unanimous decision the Supreme Court ruled the “separate but equal” doctrine unconstitutional because educational segregation stamped an inherent badge of inferiority on African American students.

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