Brown decision at a glance

The Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling against school segregation started with Linda Brown in 1951.
associated press
The Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling against school segregation started with Linda Brown in 1951.

 Origin of the case: The Brown v. Board of Education is a landmark case brought before the Supreme Court by the NAACP’s legal arm to challenge segregation in public schools.

The case began after several black families in Topeka, Kan., were turned down when they tried to enroll their children in white schools near their homes. It was named for Oliver Brown, whose daughter Linda was barred from a white elementary school. The lawsuit was joined with cases from Delaware, South Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

 How the court ruled: On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that separating black and white children was unconstitutional, because it denied black children the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. ‘‘The doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place,’’ Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote. ‘‘Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.’’


The decision overturned the court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which on May 18, 1896, established a ‘‘separate but equal’’ doctrine for blacks and whites in public facilities.

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 The principal figures: Thurgood Marshall, the head of the NAACP’s legal arm who argued part of the case, became the Supreme Court’s first African-American justice in 1967. Marshall died in 1993. Chief Justice Earl Warren, a former California governor, had been appointed chief justice by President Dwight Eisenhower, and led the court until 1969. He also chaired the commission that investigated the assassination of President Kennedy. Warren died in 1974.

Oliver Brown became a minister at a church in Springfield, Mo. He died of a heart attack in 1961. His daughters Linda and Cheryl live in Kansas and helped found an educational foundation.

 Court rulings since Brown: Brown v. Board of Education has never been overruled. The Justice Department currently is a party in court to more than 180 desegregation orders around the nation.

The Supreme Court did not immediately order enforcement of the decision. In 1955, Warren ordered lower courts to implement it “with all deliberate speed.’’


However, officials in the South resisted allowing black children to integrate schools. In 1968, the justices ruled in Green v. School Board of New Kent County that states operating segregated schools be ordered to eliminate them.

In Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education in 1971, the Supreme Court endorsed sending students from different neighborhoods to the same school to promote integration, leading to the widespread use of busing. Many of the desegregation and busing orders have been dissolved.