In the 1896 Supreme Court case, Plessy v. Ferguson, it was decided that it was legal to have racially segregated places, but they had to be equivalent (History.com Staff, 2009). African Americans were separated from Caucasian people. They did not share anything. There were different schools, prisons, restaurants, churches, health facilities, water fountains, and restrooms. As time went on, it was determined that their facilities were separate and inequivalent. White people were seen as the dominant race. Therefore, not only were the two races separated, white people had the nicer things. Colored people had to sit at the back of public transportation and give their seats up for white people. White-only facilities were nicer than the facilities for colored people. This created tension between everyone that helped lead to the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court case. By the 1950s, the NAACP began working to do away with the segregation laws that affected schools (History.com Staff, 2009). The lawsuits that the NAACP had filed had inspired other people to take action, as well.
Oliver L. Brown is a well-known man due to the lawsuit he filed. Brown was an African American minister from Topeka, KS (National Archives, 2016). His daughter, Linda Brown, was not accepted into a white school, so he filed a lawsuit against Kansas’s school segregation laws (National Archives, 2016). According to history.com, “Brown claimed that schools for black children were not equal to the white schools, and that segregation violated the so-called ‘equal protection clause’ of the 14th Amendment, which holds that no state can ‘deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.'” (History.com Staff, 2009). This case was taken on by the NAACP and Thurgood Marshall and it was tried in the Supreme Court (National Archives, 2016). Thurgood Marshall was well-known as a lawyer for these segregation law cases. Chief Justice Earl Warren was the Supreme Court judge that made the ruling that segregation was no longer allowed in public schools (National Archives, 2016). The court agreed that the separation of schools was not upholding to the “separate, but equal” requirement, and the separation was demeaning to colored people. This decision marked the beginning of a slow change for not only colored people, but education itself.
Three years after this Supreme Court decision, it was still unclear how the integration of the schools was supposed to work. Some schools were resistant of the change. In Little Rock, Arkansas, nine black students attempted to integrate themselves into a white school (Stanford University). The Arkansas National Guard and various students joined before school to block the entrances so that the colored people could not enter (Stanford University). Nineteen days later, after a federal district court case, they were able to enter the school with police escorts. The students entered through a low-traffic entrance, but were soon rushed home to prevent violence (Stanford University). A few days later, the President sent federal troops to escort the student’s into the school, and shielded them for the rest of the school year (Stanford University).
This case may not have immediately fixed the issues at hand, but it was the spark that was necessary for change. This case not only impacted education for students of different races, it also had an impact on special education. All in all, the Supreme Court ruled that all students must receive equal education, regardless of race, disability, religion, etc. The wording of this ruling leaves gaps to prove this: “Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.” (Heward, 2013, p. 15). The ruling was not limited to only race issues; this raised curiosity from parents of special education children. At the time, special education was not as developed as it is now. These students with disabilities were seen as unequal to other students. This led to more court cases along the same lines as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. In both situations, the lawsuits were based on the 14th Amendment, which protects the rights of all people, regardless of differences (Heward, 2013, p.15).