Skin Color Issues in Topeka

In Topeka, Kansas, 1950, schools were segregated by skin color. This meant that a young African American girl by the name of Linda Brown and her sister had to walk approximately one mile, crossing several active railroad tracks along the way just to get to a bus stop that led them to school across town. What made this effort required by the young girls to get to school unnecessary was the fact that there was an elementary school located just a few city blocks from their home. The only problem was that the elementary school was for whites only. Linda’s father, Oliver Brown, tried multiple times to enroll her in the whites-only school, but the principal would not allow it. As a result, Brown went to the Topeka branch of the NAACP for help.        

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At this time, a major goal of the NAACP was to bring down the precedent set up by Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Plessey v. Ferguson was the 1896 Supreme Court decision that said, segregated facilities based on skin color was OK, if both facilities were of the same quality. This stemmed from the State of Louisiana’s argument, That the law was necessary to avoid the ‘danger of friction from too intimate contact’ between the races.1 After repeated failed attempts by the NAACP trying to sue the Board of Education of Topeka for not allowing African American children to enroll in whites-only schools, Brown and the rest of the parents fighting for their children’s rights appealed to the Supreme Court.        

Ultimately, the Supreme Court heard the case in the spring of 1953. After a year of complications and deliberations, the Supreme Court voted 9-0 in support of Brown on May 17th, 1954. This decision overturned the Plessey v. Ferguson decision as the Supreme Court argued in favor of the points made by Brown and African American lawyer, Thurgood Marshal. At the time Thurgood Marshal was amongst the NAACP’s special council and argued the case for Brown on the premise that, Because of segregation.Linda Brown and other African Americans received both and inferior education and a feeling of inferiority.2 Marshall also argued that, Segregation violated the citizenship rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.3 which entailed the Equal Protection Clause. These, amongst many other arguments were the main driving force behind the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Plessey v. Ferguson. In addition, the Brown decision paved the way for future Civil Rights Movements and proved as a model for using lawsuits to reform society.        

Prior to Brown v. Board of Education reaching the Supreme Court, Oliver Brown had been challenging the Topeka Board of Education on a state level as did many other parents. They believed that the Topeka Board of Education was violating their children’s rights that were protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment stated that All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.4 This was clearly not being upheld in Topeka, Kansas. In fact, the state of Kansas went directly against the order of no deprivation of liberty by imposing an oppressive restriction on the African American children by forcing them to attend a segregated colored-only school with equal resources. This was of course allowed by the old Jim Crow laws and the Plessey v. Ferguson decision but was soon to change. The Supreme Court would later rule against, and state, 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 actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. .5 Prior to this decision, most separate but equal schools were absolutely not equal as most whites-only schools were better equipped for an academic environment.       

 Having the ability to obtain an education even by todays standards is an important aspect of one’s life and plays a critical role in one’s ability to impact state and local governments. Education in todays society, is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment.6 This statement supports the arguments that segregated schools only hurt African American children by limiting their opportunities with an inferior education and a feeling of social inferiority. These two cases cause doubt in a child’s mind of success later in life as well as irreversible affects to their mental and emotional wellbeing.        

Further expansion on the adverse effects of segregated schools was concluded by the Supreme Court stating that, Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of Negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system.7 With the advancement of knowledge in public mental health as opposed to the time of Plessey v. Ferguson it can be made apparent that it was time to integrate schools and give the African American children the ability to mingle with other children that did not share the same race as them.       

 Each argument thus far played a significant role in influencing the Supreme Court’s decision on the Brown v. Board of Education case. Although, this decision was not made on a whim. At the beginning of the court hearings, there was great deliberation amongst the Supreme Court Justices as they knew this case carried a heavy burden on society. Supreme Court Chief Justice, Fred Vinson was exceptionally worried about a close vote that would dramatically change the country. Therefore, he pushed to have the decision postponed to a later time. Unfortunately, in that time, Chief Justice Vinson died, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower nominated Earl Warren as Vinson’s replacement. As a result, and perhaps a best-case scenario for the U.S. Supreme Court, Chief Justice Earl Warren was able to do what Vinson was not; which was bringing all the Justices together for a unanimous decision in favor of Brown, overturning Plessey v. Ferguson.        

In lieu of the recent Brown decision Thurgood Marshal, foresaw the end of school segregation before the end of the decade.8 A perfect ending to a long hard fight; this was simply not the case. When the Supreme Court ruled on the enforcement of its decision in 1955, the Justices turned to local school boards, dominated by whites, to carry out integration.9 As one could tell, the enforcement of this decision was not going to be streamlined by any means due to heavy opposition from many white segregationists. In fact, the term with all deliberate speed came from the Supreme Court asking the Federal district courts to oversee the enforcement process of the decision to be carried out in this manner. This term was very vague about how to enforce the ruling and allowed segregationists the opportunity to organize resistances. For example, In 1956, 101 congressmen signed a ‘Southern Manifesto’ calling on their home states to reject the Brown ruling.10 Despite the seemingly endless opposition, many southern communities gradually desegregated their schools in the coming years leading to the fully integrated school system we have today.

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Skin Color Issues In Topeka. (2019, Nov 13). Retrieved November 28, 2022 , from
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