In the suburb of Claymont, Delaware, African American children were prohibited from attending the areas local high school. Instead, they had to ride a school bus for nearly an hour to attend Howard High School in Wilmington. Located in an industrial area of the state’s capitol city, Howard high school also suffered from a deficient curriculum, pupil teacher ratio, teacher training, extra-curricular activities program and physical plant.
In the rural community of Hockessin, African American students were forced to attend a one room dilapidated school house and were nit provided transportation to the school, while white students in the area were provided transportation and a better school facility.
In both cases, Louis Redding a local NAACP attorney represented the plaintiffs: African American parents. Although the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs the decision did not apply to all schools in Delaware. These cases were named for Ethel Belton, and Shirley Beulah.
In our nation’s capitol, eleven African American high school students were taken on a field trip to the city’s new modern John Phillip Susa School for whites only. Accompanied by local activist Gardner Bishop who requested admittance for the students and was denied the African American students were ordered to return to their grossly inadequate school. Bishop and the Consolidated Parents Group had been represented by Charles Hamilton Houston. Sadly Houston the architect behind the legal fight for desegregation died in April of 1950. Before his death, Houston had urged the group to seek out two Howard University Law professors: James Nabrit and George Hayes to represent them. Nabrit and Hayes filed suit on behalf of the group in 1951. The suit was named for Spotswood Bolling.
In Topeka, Kansas a black third grader named Linda Brown had to walk one mile through a railroad switch- yard to get to her black elementary school, even though a white elementary school was only seven blocks away. Linda’s father Oliver Brown tried to enroll her in the white elementary school but the principal of the school refused. Brown went to McKinley Burnett the head of Topeka’s branch for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and asked for help. The NAACP was eager to assist the Browns’ as it had long wanted to challenge segregation in public schools. Other black parents joined Brown and in 1951 the NAACP requested an injunction that would forbid the segregation in Topeka public schools.
The U.S. District court for the district of Kansas heard Brown’s case from June 25 thru June 26 of 1951. At the trial the NAACP argued that segregated schools sent the message to black children that they were inferior to whites therefore the schools were inherently unequal. The board of education’s defense was that because segregation in Topeka and elsewhere was pervasive in many other aspects of life, segregation in public schools simply prepared black children for the segregation they would face during adulthood. The board also argued that segregated schools were not necessarily harmful to black children. Great African Americans such as Frederick Douglas Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver had overcome just more than segregated schools to achieve what they achieved.
I deciding the request for the injunction, the court on the one hand agreed with the expert witnesses. In their decision they wrote: segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental affect upon the colored children. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. However, the precedent of Plessy v. Ferguson allowed separate but equal schools systems for blacks and whites and no Supreme Court ruling had overruled Plessy. Because of Plessy the court felt compelled to rule in favor of the board of education.
Brown and the NAACP appealed to the Supreme Court on October 1, 1951. Their case was combined with other cases challenging school desegregation in S.C. Virginia, Delaware and the District of Columbia.
How will the Supreme Court rule? Will they uphold their 1891 ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson or will they overrule it?
I’m Penny Marshall. Join us tomorrow for the answer.
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