Brown v. Board of Education.

“Separate but equal” was for-mally abandoned in Brown v. Board of Education,1674 which involved challenges to segregation per se in the schools of four states in which the lower courts had found that the schools provided were equalized or were in the process of being equalized. Though the Court had asked for argument on the intent of the framers, extensive research had proved inconclusive, and the Court asserted that it could not “turn the clock back to 1867 . . . or even to 1896,” but must rather consider the issue in the context of the vital importance of education in 1954. The Court reasoned that denial of opportunity for an adequate education would often be a denial of the opportunity to succeed in life, that separation of the races in the schools solely on the basis of race must necessarily generate feelings of inferiority in the disfavored race adversely affecting education as well as other matters, and therefore that the Equal Protection Clause was violated by such separation. “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”1675

After hearing argument on what remedial order should issue, the Court remanded the cases to the lower courts to adjust the effectuation of its mandate to the particularities of each school district. “At stake is the personal interest of the plaintiffs in admission to public schools as soon as practicable on a nondiscriminatory basis.” The lower courts were directed to “require that the defendants make a prompt and reasonable start toward full compliance,” although “[o]nce such a start has been made,” some additional time would be needed because of problems arising in the course of compliance and the lower courts were to allow it if on inquiry delay were found to be “in the public interest and [to be] consistent with good faith compliance . . . to effectuate a transition to a racially nondiscriminatory school system.” In any event, however, the lower courts were to require compliance “with all deliberate speed.”1676


347 U.S. 483 (1954). Segregation in the schools of the District of Columbia was held to violate the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment in Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497 (1954). [Back to text]
Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 489–90, 492–95 (1954). [Back to text]
Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U.S. 294, 300–01 (1955). [Back to text]