In 1952, the United States Supreme Court heard a series of cases dealing with desegregating America's public schools—the most famous of which being Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka Kansas. When 13 African American parents tried to enroll their children in schools in their community, they were denied and told to enroll in any of Topeka's eight elementary schools specially designated for black children. The parents filed suit, and while the Kansas' court system acknowledged that children suffered psychological damage as a result of segregation, the practice was admissible under the "separate but equal" doctrine.
The Supreme Court handed down the Brown decision on May 17, 1954 -- fifty-six years ago today. The decision was unanimous; segregation had no place in America's schools. "Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children," chief justice Earl Warren wrote. "We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."
Although the court's decision specifically affected the school system, the decision overturned the legal precedent set by Plessy v. Ferguson and became the cornerstone for the civil rights movement's legal strategy into the 1960s.
To learn more about this landmark case, check out the American History Museum's online exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. The Library of Congress also has an online exhibit rich with photos and documents from and relating to the case.