60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education we’ve come a long way but we have a long way to go … Part 2

Universally Speaking

Rahim Islam

Rahim Islam

Murray v. Maryland (1936) – Disappointed that the University of Maryland School of Law was rejecting black applicants solely because of their race, beginning in 1933 Thurgood Marshall (who was himself rejected from this law school because of its racial acceptance policies) decided to challenge this practice in the Maryland court system.

Before a Baltimore City Court in 1935, Marshall argued that Donald Gaines Murray was just as qualified as white applicants to attend the University of Maryland’s School of Law and that it was solely due to his race that he was rejected.

Furthermore, he argued that since the “black” law schools which Murray would otherwise have to attend were nowhere near the same academic caliber as the University’s law school, the University was violating the principle of “separate but equal.”

Moreover, Marshall argued that the disparities between the “white” and “black” law schools were so great that the only remedy would be to allow students like Murray to attend the University’s law school.

The Baltimore City Court agreed and the University then appealed to the Maryland Court of Appeals. In 1936, the Court of Appeals also ruled in favor of Murray and ordered the law school to admit him. Two years later, Murray graduated.

Missouri ex rel Gaines v. Canada (1938) – Beginning in 1936, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund decided to take on the case of Lloyd Gaines, a graduate student of Lincoln University (an all-black college) who applied to the University of Missouri Law School but was denied because of his race.

The State of Missouri gave Gaines the option of either attending an all-black law school that it would build (Missouri did not have any all-black law schools at this time) or having Missouri help to pay for him to attend a law school in a neighboring state.

Gaines rejected both of these options, and, employing the services of Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, he decided to sue the state in order to attend the University of Missouri’s law school.

By 1938, his case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, and, in December of that year, the Court sided with him.

The six-member majority stated that since a “black” law school did not currently exist in the State of Missouri, the “equal protection clause” required the state to provide, within its boundaries, a legal education for Gaines. In other words, since the state provided legal education for white students, it could not send black students, like Gaines, to school in another state.

Sweat v. Painter (1950) – Encouraged by their victory in Gaines’ case, the NAACP continued to attack legally sanctioned racial discrimination in higher education. In 1946, a Black man named Herman Sweat applied to the University of Texas’ “white” law school.

Hoping that it would not have to admit Sweat to the “white” law school if a “black” school already existed, elsewhere on the University’s campus, the state hastily set up an underfunded “black” law school.

At this point, Sweat employed the services of Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and sued to be admitted to the University’s “white” law school.

He argued that the education that he was receiving in the “black” law school was not of the same academic caliber as the education that he would be receiving if he attended the “white” law school.

When the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1950, the Court unanimously agreed with him, citing as its reason the blatant inequalities between the University’s law school (the school for whites) and the hastily erected school for blacks. In other words, the “black” law school was “separate,” but not “equal.”

Like the Murray case, the Court found the only appropriate remedy for this situation was to admit Sweat to the University’s law school.

McLaurin v. Oklahoma Board of Regents of Higher Education (1950) – In 1949, the University of Oklahoma admitted George McLaurin, a Black man, to its doctoral program.

However, it required him to sit apart from the rest of his class, eat at a separate time and table from white students, etc. McLaurin, stating that these actions were both unusual and resulting in adverse effects on his academic pursuits, sued to put an end to these practices.

McLaurin employed Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund to argue his case, a case which eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court. In an opinion delivered on the same day as the decision in Sweat, the Court stated that the University’s actions concerning McLaurin were adversely affecting his ability to learn and ordered that they cease immediately.


Even today, the NAACP continues to fight justice on behalf of Blacks with the recent attempts made by nearly 35 states to roll back the Voting Rights Gains of the 1960 using numerous voter suppression tactics (most of those legal challenges were temporarily won).

In the case that came to be known as Brown v. Board of Education was actually the name given to five separate cases that were heard by the U.S. Supreme Court concerning the issue of segregation in public schools.

While the facts of each case are different, the main issue in each was the constitutionality of statesponsored segregation in public schools. Once again, Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund handled these cases. Although it acknowledged some of the plaintiffs’/plaintiffs claims, a three-judge panel at the U.S. District Court that heard the cases ruled in favor of the school boards.

The plaintiffs then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

When the cases came before the Supreme Court in 1952, the Court consolidated all five cases under the name of Brown v. Board of Education.

Marshall personally argued the case before the Court. Although he raised a variety of legal issues on appeal, the most common one was that separate school systems for blacks and whites were inherently unequal, and thus violate the “equal protection clause” of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Furthermore, relying on sociological tests, such as the one performed by social scientist Kenneth Clark, and other data, he also argued that segregated school systems had a tendency to make black children feel inferior to white children, and thus such a system should not be legally permissible. Meeting to decide the case, the Justices of the Supreme Court realized that they were deeply divided over the issues raised.

While most wanted to reverse Plessy and declare segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional, they had various reasons for doing so. Unable to come to a solution by June 1953 (the end of the Court’s 1952-1953 term), the Court decided to rehear the case in December 1953.

During the intervening months, however, Chief Justice Fred Vinson died and was replaced by Gov. Earl Warren of California.

After the case was reheard in 1953, Chief Justice Warren was able to do something that his predecessor had not—i.e. bring all of the Justices to agree to support a unanimous decision declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

On May 14, 1954, he delivered the opinion of the Court, stating that “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.

Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. . .”

Expecting opposition to its ruling, especially in the southern states, the Supreme Court did not immediately try to give direction for the implementation of its ruling.

Rather, it asked the attorney generals of all states with laws permitting segregation in their public schools to submit plans for how to proceed with desegregation.

After still more hearings before the Court concerning the matter of desegregation, on May 31, 1955, the Justices handed down a plan for how it was to proceed; desegregation was to proceed with “all deliberate speed.”

Although it would be many years before all segregated school systems were to be desegregated, Brown and Brown II (as the Courts plan for how to desegregate schools came to be called) were responsible for getting the process underway. WHAT IS OUR REALITY TODAY?

The integration of public schools was never achieved – segregation is alive and thriving. Public education is still separate and still very much unequal.

According to the U.S. Department of Education in 2009-2010 school years, there were nearly 8.2 million Blacks attending public schools and approximately 400,000 that attend private school (nearly 80% attending religious schools with the majority Catholic Schools).

What’s most astonishing is that nearly 77% of all Black students attended predominantly all black schools within urban cities with nearly 30% of white students leaving public schools altogether.

The academic disparities are alarming – Black High School graduation rates hover around 60% compared to 80% for whites.

When you unpack these numbers, many of our high schools are dropout factories with many hovering under 50%.

Also, within these numbers is another glaring statistic – black boys are dropping out of high school at a disproportionally rate higher than black girls (almost 3-1) and both black boys and black girls are ranking near the bottom on SAT exams and entry into elite colleges.

Black trail whites by nearly 30 percentage points in history, geography, civics, math and reading.

These numbers are discouraging but more damaging when coupled with high levels of poverty rates, unemployment, teen pregnancy, and incarceration rates, and high level of divorces amongst Black families.

Couple with the neverending fight for resources, many of the schools that Black children attending are what we call “opportunity gaps” – they are simply inferior to predominantly all white schools, which I believe was the true purpose of Brown v. Board of Education case.

Not only was it about addressing the issue of “separate” but it was also about “unequal.”

Not only our school facilities unequal and inferior, many of our schools lack the very essentials to educate our children (i.e. Books, Equipment, Facilities, Educational Programs, Summer School, etc.).

There are several components that are absolutely necessary for equitable education: facilities, funding, and teachers.

Given the struggles that Blacks have had in this country from the beginning, you would’ve thought that at least one commitment would be fulfilled for Black people – equitable schools.

While I’m in full support of the legal challenges that our great ancestors made to fight structural racism, discrimination, and bias against Black people, but inherit in their defense was that Black led schools were inherently inferior.

What has made our schools inferior then and now is the inadequate and unequal funding that it has gotten.

Every negative demographic can be tied directly to academic achievement; in fact, they are now calling our public schools “pipelines to the prison industrial complex” – another form of slavery.

Why has the fight for equality been so elusive in this country for Black people, especially in the area of education and given our history.

Unfortunately, like before, today America refuses to live up to its creed of fairness and equality and has opposed at every turn to fully provide education to Black children.

I think it’s now time to legally challenge these disparities – I’m a supporter of the idea of Reparations.