Learn more about the landmark Supreme Court decision that opened the doors for equal education in America.

Significant Moments in Brown v Board of Education

  • 1935 Pearson v. Murray:
    After the University of Maryland Law School denied admission to Thurgood Marshal, he and Charles Hamilton Houston secure a victory in the Maryland Court of Appeals against the Law School. Donald Murray becomes the first black applicant to matriculate into a southern law school.
  • 1938 Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada: 
    The U.S. Supreme Court invalidates state laws that required African-American students to attend out-of-state graduate schools to avoid admitting them to their states’ all-white facilities or building separate graduate schools for them. Missouri must provide African-Americans equal legal education; shortly afterward, two African-Americans matriculate into Missouri’s law school.
  • 1940 Alston v. School Board of City of Norfolk: 
    A federal appeals court orders that African-American teachers must be paid salaries equal to those of white teachers.

1948 Sipuel v. Oklahoma State Regents

  • 1948 Sipuel v. Oklahoma State Regents: 
    The Supreme Court rules that a state cannot bar an African-American student from its all-white law school on the ground that she had not requested the state to provide a separate law school for African-American students.
  • 1950 McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents:
    The Supreme Court holds that an African-American student admitted to a formerly all-white graduate school could not be subjected to practices of segregation that interfered with meaningful classroom instruction and interaction with other students, such as making a student sit in the classroom doorway, isolated from the professor and other students.
  • 1950 Sweatt v. Painter:
    The Supreme Court rules that law schools cannot be “separate and equal” and that a separate law school, hastily established for black students to prevent them from being admitted to the previously all-white University of Texas School of Law, could not provide a legal education “equal” to that available to white students. The Court orders Herman Marion Sweatt to be admitted to the University of Texas Law School.
  • 1954 Brown v. Board of Education:
    Brown v. Board of Education:
    The Supreme Court rules that racial segregation in public schools violates the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection, and the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees due process. This landmark case overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine that underpinned legal segregation.

    • Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the five cases that comprised the Supreme Court case were: Thurgood Marshall, Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.; Harold Boulware – Briggs v. Elliott (South Carolina); Jack Greenberg, Louis L. Redding – Gebhart v. Belton (Delaware); Robert L. Carter, Charles S. Scott – Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (Kansas); Oliver M. Hill, Spottswood W. Robinson III – Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (Virginia); James M. Nabrit, Jr., George E. C. Hayes – Bolling v. Sharpe (District of Columbia).
    • Attorneys Of Counsel: Charles L. Black, Jr., Elwood H. Chisolm, William T. Coleman, Jr., Charles T. Duncan, George E.C. Hayes, William R. Ming, Jr., Constance Baker Motley, David E. Pinsky, Frank D. Reeves, John Scott, and Jack B. Weinstein.
  • 1955 Brown v. Board of Education (II):
    The Supreme Court orders desegregation to proceed with “all deliberate speed.”
  • 1955 Lucy v. Adams:
    A federal district court orders the admission of Autherine Lucy to the University of Alabama, and the Supreme Court quickly affirms the decision.
  • 1957 President Eisenhower orders National Guard to Little Rock, Arkansas to escort nine black students to Central High School to enforce Brown.

1950 McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents

  • 1958 Cooper v. Aaron:
    LDF wins a Supreme Court ruling that barred Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus from interfering with the desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High School. The decision affirms Brown as the law of the land nationwide.
  • 1959 Prince Edward County, Virginia closes all of its public schools rather than desegregate them.
  • 1961 Holmes v. Danner:
    LDF secures admission for Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes to the University of Georgia.
  • 1962 Meredith v. Fair:
    James Meredith finally succeeds in becoming the first African-American student to matriculate into the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). His legal team is spearheaded by LDF attorney Constance Baker Motley.
  • 1968 Green v. County School Board of New Kent County (Virginia):
    The Supreme Court holds that “freedom of choice” plans were ineffective at producing actual school desegregation and had to be replaced with more effective strategies.
  • 1971 Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenberg Board of Education:
    The Supreme Court upholds the use of busing as a means of desegregating public schools. Julius Chambers, LDF’s first intern and eventually its Director-Counsel, argues Swann before the Supreme Court.
  • 1972 Wright v. City of Emporia, and U.S. v. Scotland Neck City Bd. of Educ.,
    The Supreme Court holds that states cannot avoid desegregation orders by gerrymandering school districts.
  • 1973 Norwood v. Harrison:
    The Supreme Court rules that states cannot provide free textbooks to segregated private schools established to allow whites to avoid public school desegregation.
  • 1973 Keyes v. School District No. 1, Denver:
    The Supreme Court establishes legal rules for governing school desegregation cases outside of the South and decides that where deliberate segregation was shown to have affected a substantial part of a school system, the entire district must ordinarily be desegregated.
  • 1973 Adams v. Richardson:
    A federal appeals court approves a district court order requiring federal education officials to enforce Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which bars discrimination by recipients of federal funds) against state universities, public schools, and other institutions that receive federal money.
  • 1974 Milliken v. Bradley:
    The Supreme Court rules that, in most cases, a federal court cannot impose an inter-district remedy between a city and its surrounding suburbs in order to integrate city schools.
  • 1978 Bakke v. Regents of the University of California:
    The Supreme Court rules that schools can take race into account in admissions, but cannot use quotas.

1950 Sweatt v. Painter

  • 1984 Geier v. Alexander:
    As part of a settlement of a case requiring desegregation of Tennessee’s public higher education system, the state agrees to identify 75 promising black sophomores each year and prepare them for later admission to the state’s graduate and professional schools. A federal court of appeals approves this settlement in 1986 despite opposition from the Reagan Administration.
  • 1995 Missouri v. Jenkins:
    The Supreme Court rules that some disparities, such as poor achievement among African-American students, are beyond the authority of the federal courts to address. This decision reaffirms the Supreme Court’s desire to end federal court supervision and return control of schools to local authorities.
  • 1996 Sheff v. O’Neill:
    The Supreme Court of Connecticut finds the State liable for maintaining racial and ethnic isolation, and orders the legislative and executive branches to propose a remedy. LDF returned to that Court in 2003 to force the legislative body to fulfill the Court’s mandate. This case is ongoing.
  • 1996 Hopwood v. Texas:
    The Fifth Circuit of the Court of Appeals rules that the affirmative action plans used by Texas universities are unconstitutional. The Supreme Court refuses to review the case.
  • 1999 Thirty years of court-supervised desegregation ends in Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district.
  • 2003 Gratz v. Bollinger; Grutter v. Bollinger:
    In Gratz v Bollinger, the Court held that the University of Michigan’s use of racial preferences in undergraduate admissions violates both the Equal Protection Clause and Title VI. LDF represents African-American and Latino student intervenors in the Gratz undergraduate school case.
  • After considering challenges to the University of Michigan’s affirmative action program for its undergraduate and graduate law schools, respectively, the Court held in Grutter v. Bollinger that the Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the Law School’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further their compelling interest in student diversity.
  • 2007 Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1 
    The Supreme Court holds that public schools may not use race as the sole determining factor for assigning students to schools; affirmative action programs for elementary and secondary schools based on race are held unconstitutional as implemented.
  • 2014 Schuette vs Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action
    The Supreme Court reverses a decision by the Sixth Circuit and holds that an amendment to Michigan’s state constitution that prohibits state universities from considering race in its admissions policy does not violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. In a powerful dissent, Justice Sotomayor writes: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination.”