Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Creators: On the 70th Anniversary of Brown, School Segregation Continues

Matthew T. Mangino
May 20, 2024

This past week marked the U.S. Supreme Court setting aside, a portion of, certainly one of the worst decisions in the Court's 235-year history.

In 1896, the high court issued a ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson that held racial segregation laws did not violate the U.S. Constitution as long as the facilities for each race were equal in quality, a doctrine that came to be known as "separate but equal."

In 1892, Homer Plessy, a mixed-race resident of New Orleans, deliberately violated Louisiana's Separate Car Act of 1890, which required "equal, but separate" railroad accommodations for white and non-white passengers. Plessy was charged with boarding a "whites-only" car. Judge John Howard Ferguson refused to throw out the charge against Plessy and Plessy's case ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court issued a 7-1 decision against Plessy, ruling that the Louisiana law did not violate the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, stating that although the 14th Amendment established the legal equality of whites and Blacks it did not, and could not, require the elimination of all "distinctions based upon color." The decision legitimized the "Jim Crow" laws that reestablished racial segregation after Reconstruction.

Justice John Marshall Harlan was the lone dissent, writing that the U.S. Constitution "is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens." The Separate Car Act's separating passengers by race was a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

The disgraceful decision in Plessy remained in effect with regard to education for 58 years. Finally on May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education — which held that the "separate but equal" doctrine was unconstitutional in the context of public schools and educational facilities — severely weakening Plessy but not specifically overruling the decision.

The Brown case began in 1951 when the public school system in Topeka, Kansas, refused to enroll a local Black man's daughter at the school closest to her home. Oliver Brown's daughter was instead required to bus to a segregated Black school down the road.

Brown and 12 other local Black families in similar situations filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Board of Education, alleging that its segregation policy was unconstitutional.

A special three-judge panel of the U.S District Court for the District of Kansas heard the case and ruled against Brown, relying on Plessy v. Furgeson. The decision was appealed to the Supreme Court by the NAACP's chief counsel, and future member of the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall.

The Supreme Court issued a unanimous 9-0 decision in favor of Brown. The court ruled that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal," and therefore laws that impose them violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

The decision, announced 70 years ago this month, overturned the specious "separate but equal" doctrine and opened the door to full and fair education for all students regardless of race.

But, according to ABC News, seven decades later, "while racial mandates no longer dictate enrollment, schools across the country remain segregated for a variety of reasons."

"A lot of the folks with economic means, who are more likely to be white, are now sending their kids to private schools at a higher rate," University of California Merced associate professor Whitney Pirtle, told ABC News.

At the time of Brown v. Board of Education, charter and magnet schools — publicly funded institutions that can differ from traditional district schools — did not exist.

Magnet schools were created to encourage voluntary desegregation by attracting diverse students with a shared interest or learning style. The result was not as encouraging. According to an ABC News' analysis, (Magnet schools) "are more than twice as likely as non-magnet schools to have at least one racial group represented at double its district rate."

The same analysis found that charter schools also pull money from those school districts that need it most. Today, segregation continues through private, magnet and charter schools.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book "The Executioner's Toll, 2010" was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

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