60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education we’ve come a long way but we have a long way to go … Part 1
By Rahim Islam
I have always said when White America catches a cold, Black America catches “triple pneumonia.”
While the America the concept represents the best experiment in modern history, America struggles with significant domestic challenges.
When the “majority” White America has ills and trouble and they have many (i.e. economic recession, divorce and the demise of the family structure; decline of the middle class; general moral decline where those that have more don’t support those less fortunate, etc.); the “minority” Black America’s problems are much, much worst.
While America spends more on K-12 education than any other country in the world, America ranks in the middle regarding academic achievement out of the 25 top countries in the world.
The fact remains, for Blacks, academic achievement is much worst. We recently acknowledge the 60th anniversary of the historic Supreme Court Ruling of Brown v. Board of Education which proves less a cause for celebration and grounds for questioning the current education inequities.
The ruling was historic because it declared “separate but equal” not only is an impossibility, but unconstitutional.
Where you start is critical and many of the Black man’s struggles are directly linked to our history in America; therefore, let’s examine a little bit of history.
During the enslavement of our Ancestors, there were numerous States that had laws on their books that forbid the majority of our ancestors to read and/ or to be educated (it was a crime).
Although the Declaration of Independence stated that “All men are created equal,” due to the institution of slavery, this statement was not to be grounded in law in the United States until after the Civil War and, arguably, not completely fulfilled to date.
Blacks continue to fight for the realization of this Declaration – there have been numerous legal challenges to eliminate the American institution of slavery and the system of “structural” and “legal” racism – the 1954 Brown v. Board court case, while critical, followed many critical legal cases.
In 1848, Benjamin Roberts, a free Black printer, filed suit against the city of Boston where his 5-yearold daughter was required to travel past five white public schools to reach her segregated school.
He based his suit on an ordinance that stated, “Any child excluded from the public schools could recover damages.”
The litigants were represented by U.S. Senator and abolitionist Charles Sumner and a prominent black attorney named Robert Morris. In the case, Roberts v. Brown, decided in 1850, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts found no constitutional basis for abolishing “colored only” schools.
The decision was cited in upholding the “separate but equal” doctrine.
In 1865, the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified and finally put an end to slavery.
Moreover, the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) strengthened the legal rights of newly freed slaves by stating, among other things, that no state shall deprive anyone of either “due process of law” or of the “equal protection of the law.”
Finally, the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) further strengthened the legal rights of newly freed slaves by prohibiting states from denying anyone the right to vote due to race.
In fact, many state legislatures enacted laws that led to the legally mandated segregation of the races. In other words, the laws of many states decreed that blacks and whites could not use the same public facilities, ride the same buses, attend the same schools, etc.
These laws came to be known as Jim Crow laws and many believe that these laws were part of a compromise made between the North and South to keep a form of slavery and to thwart additional threats to a possible second civil war.
It was not until the 1890s that these laws were directly challenged in court.
In 1892, a black man named Homer Plessy refused to give up his seat to a white man on a train in New Orleans, as he was required to do by Louisiana state law.
For this action he was arrested.
Plessy, contending that the Louisiana law separating blacks from whites on trains violated the “equal protection clause” of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, decided to fight his arrest in court.
By 1896, his case had made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court. By a vote of 8-1, the United States Supreme Court ruled against Plessy. In the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, Justice Henry Billings Brown, writing the majority opinion, stated that “The object of the Fourteenth amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to endorse social, as distinguished from political, equality…..if one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane.”
ARE YOU KIDDING ME – WAKE UP BROTHERS AND SISTERS, THIS IS WHAT WERE UP AGAINST.
THERE CONTINUES TO BE SO MUCH OPPOSITION TO FULL CITIZENSHIP OF BLACKS IN AMERICA.
The lone dissenter in the Plessy case, Justice John Marshal Harlan, interpreting the Fourteenth Amendment another way, stated, “Our Constitution is colorblind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.”
Justice Harlan’s dissent would become a rallying cry for those in later generations that wished to declare segregation unconstitutional.
As a result of the Plessy decision, in the early twentieth century the Supreme Court continued to uphold the legality of Jim Crow laws and other forms of racial discrimination.
In the case of Cumming v. Richmond (Ga.) County Board of Education (1899), for instance, the Court refused to issue an injunction preventing a school board from spending tax money on a white high school when the same school board voted to close down a black high school for financial reasons – DOES THIS SOUND FAMILIAR.
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Plessy and similar cases, our Ancestors continued to fight for the abolition of Jim Crow and other racially discriminatory laws.
One particular organization that fought for racial equality more than any other was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) founded in 1909 by the great W.E. Dubois.
For about the first 20 years of its existence, it tried to persuade Congress and other legislative bodies to enact laws that would protect Blacks from lynching and other racist actions. Beginning in the 1930s, the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund began to turn to the courts to try to make progress in overcoming legally sanctioned discrimination.
From 1935 to 1938, the legal arm of the NAACP was headed by Charles Hamilton Houston.
Houston, together with Thurgood Marshall, both Black unsung heroes, devised a strategy to attack Jim Crow laws by striking at them where they were perhaps weakest—in the field of education which included the following four cases: