24th International Conference on Teaching and Learning

 

  April 2014

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Volume 6: Prequel to the Little Rock Nine:
 Thurgood Marshall and Brown v Board of Education

Professor John Taylor & Professor Joseph Langat

 

Abstract:

On September 25, 2017 “The Little Rock Nine (now Eight)” will assemble again in Little Rock, Arkansas to celebrate 60 years after the historic day in civil rights history. FSCJ Professor, John Taylor, was there in 1957. Volumes 1 through 5 over the previous five conferences have told many stories of the historic year at Central in 1957-58. Volume 6 will focus on the 60 years leading up to this day when segregation barrier was finally broken across the 12 state South and five border states in the United States. One man, Thurgood Marshall, risked his life for over 20 years until 1954’s Supreme Court Decision: Brown v Board of Education changed the law of the land which created the “Separate But Equal Doctrine” (Plessy v Ferguson) in 1896.

 

Full Description:

On September 25, 2017 “The Little Rock Nine (now Eight)” will assemble again in Little Rock, Arkansas to celebrate 60 years after the historic day in civil rights history when nine African American children integrated the first all white high school, Little Rock Central High School. FSCJ Professor, John Taylor, was there in 1957 as a 16 year old junior. Volumes 1 through 5 over the previous five conferences have told many stories of the historic year at Central in 1957-58 and the following year, 1958-59 (The Lost Class of 59). Volume 6 will focus on the 60 years leading up to this day when segregation barrier was finally broken across the 12 state South and five border states in the United States through the historic Supreme Court decision in 1954: Brown v Board of Education.

For much of the sixty years preceding the Brown case, race relations in the U.S. had been dominated by racial segregation. This policy had been endorsed in 1896 by the United States Supreme Court case of Plessy v. Ferguson, which held that as long as the separate facilities for the separate races were equal, segregation did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment ("no State shall... deny to any person... the equal protection of the laws.").

One man, Thurgood Marshall, risked his life for over 20 years to fight for equal rights before the days of the civil rights icon such as Martin Luther King. He was the lead lawyer for the NAACP who argued the case in front of the Supreme Court. No one in the Negro community had to say his last name during the 1930s and 1940s, just “Thurgood” is coming. He was known as “Mr. Civil Rights”. The story of his life will be presented through a selection of clips from four major videos.

 First, the 1991 Hollywood movie made for HBO as a mini series: “Separate But Equal” starring Sydney Poitier as Thurgood and Burt Landcaster as the famous lawyer, John W. Davis, who argued for segregation. The film focuses on the South Carolina case of the five cases (Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, and Washington DC) under the umbrella of Brown v Board.  It started as a simple case with the black citizens of Clardon County wanting just one school bus for the ‘colored’ children where the white children were transported by 30 buses, yet the black student population outnumbered the white students 97 to 3.

It went from begging for crumbs to not being satisfied equal facilities, nor school busing, but to declare segregation illegal. It was proven that separating black children from others solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone. The impact of segregation is greater when it has the sanction of law. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law tends to impede the educational and mental development of black children and deprives them of some of the benefits they would receive in an integrated school system. Today, this 22 year old film is not available in DVD, only VHS tape.

The second film is the 2004 documentary “With All Deliberate Speed” which focus of those four words which allowed the Southern States to delay integration or allow only token integration for the nearly 20 years after Brown.

The third film is a 2005 production to celebrate the 50 years after Brown: Biography – Thurgood Marshall: Justice for All. This program features interviews with family, scholars, and NAACP figures who unanimously portray Marshall as a tireless crusader, charismatic leader, and ebullient, fun-loving friend. President Lyndon Johnson, who nominated him to the Supreme Court, admired Marshall mightily and considered him a "great pal." Throughout a lifetime that spanned nearly a century, Marshall achieved social change, decade by decade, until his retirement from the Supreme Court in 1993 at the age of 85.

The fourth video produced in 2011 is a one man Broadway stage production: Thurgood. Thurgood is the dazzling fusion of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and actor Laurence Fishburne. This filming of Fishburne's one-man Broadway show is half charming character portrait, half wry but galvanizing history lesson. Growing up in the era of racist Jim Crow laws, Marshall had initial ambitions to be a dentist, but constant exposure to injustice led him to the law. The stage production makes use of lighting effects, sound effects, and projections, but these are mere window-dressing; this powerful story is driven by Fishburne, whose resonant voice, subtle sideways looks, deep humor, and sheer intelligence ably convey the mind of one of the great American jurists. It is a must to own and worth the time to show in history and political science classes..

For the Little Rock Nine in 1957-58 and after, they met many times with Thurgood Marshall, who aided the NAACP lawyers in Arkansas who foght the desegregation battles with the Governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, through the National Legal Defense Fund.

 

Background:

Brown V. Board of Education (1954)

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We conclude that , in the field of public education, the doctrine of 'seperate but equal' has no place. Seperate educational facilities are inherently unequal."Woman and girl on steps of Supreme Court



On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which says that no state may deny equal protection of the laws to any person within its jurisdiction. The 1954 decision declared that separate educational facilities were inherently unequal. Following a series of Supreme Court cases argued between 1938 and 1950 that chipped away at legalized segregation, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka reversed an earlier Supreme Court ruling (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896) that permitted "separate but equal" public facilities. The 1954 decision was limited to the public schools, but it was believed to imply that segregation was not permissible in other public facilities. The key phrase in the ruling delivered by Chief Justice Earl Warren was as follows:

"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. ... We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

Brown v. Board received its name from the lawsuit brought by the parents of eight-year-old Linda Brown, who had to travel a great distance to attend grade school while white children went to a school a few blocks away. The NAACP brought suit on behalf of her parents to admit her to her neighborhood school. The Brown case was one of a total of five cases charging that segregation

Media Feature - Listen to the Audio

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Former Moton H.S.
students on the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

in education was a violation of the equal protection of the laws clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. They included Briggs v. Elliot at al. (South Carolina) Davis at al. V. County School Board of Prince Edward County (Virginia); Gebhart et al. V. Benton (Delaware), and Bolling v. Sharpe (District of Columbia). Four of the cases were brought by the National Association For the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and were argued before the Supreme Court by Thurgood Marshall. Marshall would later become the first black justice on the Supreme Court.

-- Richard Wormser

Brown v. Board of Education –
                        Case Brief Summary

Summary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954).

Facts

This case is a consolidation of several different cases from Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware. Several black children (through their legal representatives, Ps) sought admission to public schools that required or permitted segregation based on race. The plaintiffs alleged that segregation was unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In all but one case, a three judge federal district court cited Plessy v. Ferguson in denying relief under the “separate but equal” doctrine. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the plaintiffs contended that segregated schools were not and could not be made equal and that they were therefore deprived of equal protection of the laws.

Issue

  • Is the race-based segregation of children into “separate but equal” public schools constitutional?

Holding and Rule (Warren)

  • No. The race-based segregation of children into “separate but equal” public schools violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and is unconstitutional.

Segregation of children in the public schools solely on the basis of race denies to black children the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, even though the physical facilities and other may be equal. Education in public schools is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.

The question presented in these cases must be determined not on the basis of conditions existing when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, but in the light of the role of public education in American life today. The separate but equal doctrine adopted in Plessy v. Ferguson, which applied to transportation, has no place in the field of public education.

Separating black children from others solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone. The impact of segregation is greater when it has the sanction of law. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law tends to impede the educational and mental development of black children and deprives them of some of the benefits they would receive in an integrated school system. Whatever may have been the extent of psychological knowledge at the time of Plessy v. Ferguson, this finding is amply supported by modern authority and any language to the contrary in Plessy v. Ferguson is rejected.

Disposition

Judgment for the plaintiffs.

See Allen v. Wright for a constitutional law case brief involving an issue of whether the parents of black children had standing to bring claims for declaratory and injunctive relief regarding the tax-exempt status of segregated private schools.

 

 

 

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Seven of the LR 9 sit on the U.S. Supreme Court Steps with Thurgood Marshall

 

 

Plessy V. Ferguson (1896)

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Sign: White waiting room

On June 7, 1892, 30-year-old Homer Plessy was jailed for sitting in the "White" car of the East Louisiana Railroad. Plessy could easily pass for white but under Louisiana law, he was considered black despite his light complexion and therefore required to sit in the "Colored" car. He was a Creole of Color, a term used to refer to black persons in New Orleans who traced some of their ancestors to the French, Spanish, and Caribbean settlers of Louisiana before it became part of the United States. When Louisiana passed the Separate Car Act, legally segregating common carriers in 1892, a black civil rights organization decided to challenge the law in the courts. Plessy deliberately sat in the white section and identified himself as black. He was arrested and the case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Plessy's lawyer argued that the Separate Car Act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth

The Plessy decision set the precedent that "seperate" facilities for blacks and whites were constitutional as long as they were "equal."

Courtroom

Amendments to the Constitution. In 1896, the Supreme Court of the United States heard the case and held the Louisiana segregation statute constitutional. Speaking for a seven-man majority, Justice Henry Brown wrote: "A statute which implies merely a legal distinction between the white and colored races -- has no

tendency to destroy the legal equality of the two races. ... The object of the Fourteenth Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either." Justice John Harlan, the lone dissenter, saw the horrific consequences of the decision. "Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. ... The present decision, it may well be apprehended, will not only stimulate aggressions, more or less brutal and irritating, upon the admitted rights of colored citizens, but will encourage the belief that it is possible, by means of

Media Feature - Watch the Video

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The significance of the
High Court's ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson.

state enactments, to defeat the beneficent purposes which the people of the United States had in view when they adopted the recent amendments of the Constitution." The Plessy decision set the precedent that "separate" facilities for blacks and whites were constitutional as long as they were "equal." The "separate but equal" doctrine was quickly extended to cover many areas of public life, such as restaurants, theaters, restrooms, and public schools. The doctrine was a fiction, as facilities for blacks were always inferior to those for whites. Not until 1954, in the equally important Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, would the "separate but equal" doctrine be struck down.

-- Richard Wormser

 

Plessy v. Ferguson – Case Brief Summary

Summary of Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 16 S. Ct. 1138, 41 L. Ed. 256 (1896).

Facts

Plessy (P) attempted to sit in an all-white railroad car. After refusing to sit in the black railway carriage car, Plessy was arrested for violating an 1890 Louisiana statute that provided for segregated “separate but equal” railroad accommodations. Those using facilities not designated for their race were criminally liable under the statute.

At trial with Justice John H. Ferguson (D) presiding, Plessy was found guilty on the grounds that the law was a reasonable exercise of the state’s police powers based upon custom, usage, and tradition in the state. Plessy filed a petition for writs of prohibition and certiorari in the Supreme Court of Louisiana against Ferguson, asserting that segregation stigmatized blacks and stamped them with a badge of inferiority in violation of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments. The court found for Ferguson and the Supreme Court granted cert.

Issue

  • Can the states constitutionally enact legislation requiring persons of different races to use “separate but equal” segregated facilities?

Holding and Rule (Brown)

  • Yes. The states can constitutionally enact legislation requiring persons of different races to use “separate but equal” segregated facilities.

Thirteenth Amendment issue

The statute does not conflict with the Thirteenth Amendment. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime. Slavery implies involuntary servitude and a state of bondage. The Thirteenth Amendment however was regarded as insufficient to protect former slaves from certain laws which had been enacted in the south which imposed upon them onerous disabilities and burdens and curtailed their rights in the pursuit of life, liberty and property to such an extent that their freedom was of little value; and that the Fourteenth Amendment was devised to meet this exigency.

Fourteenth Amendment Issue

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are made citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside, and the States are forbidden from making or enforcing any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, or shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or deny to any person within their jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The proper construction of this amendment involves a question of exclusive privileges rather than race. Its main purpose was to establish the citizenship of former slaves, to give definitions of citizenship of the United States and of the States, and to protect the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States from hostile legislation of the states.

It was intended to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but it was intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms unsatisfactory to either. Laws permitting and even requiring their separation in places where they are liable to be brought into contact do not necessarily imply the inferiority of either race. Such laws have generally been recognized as within the scope of the states’ police powers. The most common instance involves the establishment of separate schools, which has been held to be a valid exercise of the legislative power even by courts of States where the political rights of blacks have been longest and most earnestly enforced.

Disposition

Judgment for Ferguson (Plessy loses).

Note

This case is often cited incorrectly as Plessey v. Ferguson.

This case was later overruled by Brown v. Board of Education. Justice Warren wrote the opinion for a unanimous court, holding that separate facilities which segregate based on race are inherently unequal.