Thurgood Marshall and his expert team of NAACP lawyers have now arrived before the Supreme Court to argue the most important case of them all: Brown v. Board of Education.
The high court had combined all five of the NAACP sponsored cases filed by Marshall and his team for a hearing. The last time the high court had combined the five cases pertaining to the civil rights of African Americans, was in 1883. The decision rendered in that case invalidated the civil rights act of 1875 wiping out all the rights vested by Congress to African Americans during Reconstruction. That decision lead to Plessy. That same decision outraged African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Henry McNeil Turner.
In an article appearing in the New York paper the New York Voice and the AME publication the Christian Recorder, asked the African American community to pray for a new Court.
Marshall would now argue this important case before a new Court: The Vinson Court. Before the case would be decided, he would re-argue the case before a different Court. He would reargue the case before the Warren Court.
Associate Justice Hugo Black would sit on both Courts. Franklin Roosevelt nominated Hugo Black to the Court. Before sitting on the high court, he had been a successful trial lawyer turned politician in Alabama. During his days in Alabama, and before being elected to the U.S. Senate, Black was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Black’s membership had been exposed by a reporter, after his confirmation to the high court. It was questionable as to whether he would be willing to protect the rights of all including that of African Americans. Hugo Black commented once on the subject by way of a radio address.
Now the case of Brown v. Board of Education was before Hugo Black and the Unites states Supreme Court. A case of whether segregation is a violation of African American Rights to equal protection under the law as it is prescribed by he 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Thurgood Marshall and Robert Carter were up against John W. Davis, a former Presidential candidate who was making the last of his 140 appearances before the Supreme Court. Davis’ argument: separate was not necessarily unequal. He went on to say that blacks should be happy with the way things were. He also addressed states rights asking the question didn’t state have the right to educate their children as they saw fit? All in all Davis felt that he had won the case because he had Plessy on his side and Plessy was precedent. He had not given any consideration to the Gaines, Murray Sweat Supuel and McLaurin cases. Cases that Marshall and Houston had argued and won before the high court: cases that had chipped away at Plessy.
In a conference held after the hearing, the Justices never got to a vote. In a private memo associate Justice William Douglas that there were four votes to strike down segregation. The other five associate justices were not ready to do so. Counted amongst the four votes was associate justice Hugo Black. All of the justices felt that segregation was morally wrong. The conference raised some interesting questions: questions that prompted the Justices to schedule another hearing. Before the hearing could be scheduled, Chief Justice Fred Vinson died of a heart attack. President Dwight Eisenhower nominated former California Governor Earl Warren to replace Vincent as the Chief Justice.
After the rehearing, the chief Justice acting as a politician talked individually to each associate justice. On May 17, 1954 Chief Justice Earl Warren read the following decision of a unanimous court: We come to the question presented that segregation of children in public schools solely on the bases of race even though the physical facilities, and other tangible factors may be equal deprive the children of the minority group equal educational opportunities. We believe that it does. We conclude that in the field of public education, the doctrine of separate but equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the action has been brought are by reasons of the segregation complained of deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment. The Supreme Court had overturned Plessy.
Houston plans of chipping away at Plessy had made this victory possible. It was unfortunate that he did not live to share in this victory.
I’m Penny Marshall.
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Tags: African Methodist Episcopal, Bishop Henry McNeil Turner, Broad v. Board of Education, Chief Justice Earl Warren, Chief Justice Fred Vinson, Febone1960.net, febone1960.net black history month calendar, Hugo Black, John W. Davis, Ku Klux Klan, Robert Carter, Vincent Court, Warren Court, Wiliam Douglas