In 2018, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education turned 64. Brown invalidated racial segregation in public schools throughout the United States and paved the way for integration in nearly every aspect of American life. The case was litigated by some of the nation’s best attorneys, including Thurgood Marshall, Robert Carter, Jack Greenberg, Constance Baker Motley, Spottswood Robinson, Oliver Hill, Louis Redding and James Nabrit, among others.
Brown was the culmination of years of legal challenges mounted across the country by LDF attorneys. These cases argued that segregation in K-12 education violated the right of every citizen to equal protection under the law under the 14th amendment. The strategy leading to Brown was conceived in the 1930s by legal genius Charles Hamilton Houston, then-Dean of Howard Law School, and brilliantly orchestrated in a series of cases over the next two decades by his star pupil, Thurgood Marshall, LDF’s first Director-Counsel.
In its unanimous ruling on May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 and invalidated Plessy’s doctrine of “separate but equal.” Brown was the catalyst for the eventual integration of almost all avenues of American public life, including public schools, public transportation, housing, swimming pools, hospitals, golf courses and other venues. However, the ruling met with massive opposition. A year after the decision, LDF litigated Brown II, in which the Court ordered desegregation “with all deliberate speed.” However, it was not until LDF’s subsequent victories in Green v. County School Board (1968) and Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg (1971) that the Supreme Court mandated that segregation be dismantled “root and branch.”
In celebration of this anniversary, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. held an event reflecting on the work yet to be done in ensuring an equal educational access for all American children. LDF President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill was joined in conversation with award-winning journalist, Nicole Hannah-Jones.