A Moment in History – Brown v. Board and The Warren Court

How much power the government should yield has been a constant debate throughout the United States history. When Earl Warren was sworn in as Chief Justice for the Supreme Court October 2, 1953, no one knew his appointment would become one of the most controversial times in the Supreme Court nor one of the most modernizing. Warren Court’s rulings in 1953-1969 expanded civil and independent rights through desegregation in schools, increased rights for criminals, and affirming freedom of the press.

Before Warren Court’s time, the history of Supreme Court decisions about civil rights shows how controversially powerful Warren Court decision was in Brown v. Board of Education. From 1857, where the Dred Scott case determined black slaves could not be citizens, to 11 years later in 1868 when the 14 Amendment declared that Constitutional rights extended to former slaves, great progress was made in the fight for equality. However, separate but equal facilities were allowed as said by Plessy v. Ferguson 1896.

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In most cases the black facilities were not equal at all to the white ones and for 50 years this went on until the historic case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) hit Warren Court very early on in Warren’s appointment. In most places the facilities, books, and materials were outdated and worn down in colored schools compared to those in white schools. Some places didn’t even provide junior high school or had limited colored schools, forcing black children to travel long distances. All over the country more and more colored families were urging and suing the government for their children to be educated with white children.

They thought that if they keep trying, at least one case would force the Supreme Court to analyze to concepts behind “separate but equal”. The case that made it to Warren Court was Brown v. Board of Education Topeka, Kansas in 1954. It was based around nine-year-old Linda Brown who had to make a long, dangerous 1.5 hour trip everyday to her colored school, even though a white school was located just 7 blocks away.

Witnesses told similar tales of the struggles of having separate schools but mentioned it was not the teachers who were lacking, but it was the sense of separation that left the impression that blacks were an inferior group, which they concluded, affected ones motivation for learning. The case hit the Supreme Court on May 17, 1954 and lasted three days. One side argued that the 14 amendment was a broad purpose while the other side said “separate but equal” was constitutional and decisions on education belonged to the state. The decision unanimous and Warren wrote the decisions stating: “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.

..segregation is a denial of the equal protection of the laws”. With this statement Warren ordered all 17 states that had separate schools to immediately integrate them. This court case caused social unrest unmatched since the Civil War.

Governors of Mississippi, South Carolina, and Georgia threatened to get rid of their public schools before they would let blacks in, Senators signed petitions against the ruling, racist hate groups formed, and state and local government made laws to circumvent the Supreme Court ruling. This was by far Warren’s Court most controversial court case that had many critics raving that the Court executed too much power and that it was making laws not basing their decisions by them. However, they were following the 14 amendment by making school equal for all races, and therefore upholding the Constitution like no court before.