Brown v. Board of Education was a landmark case addressing institutional racism in the American education system:
Brown v. Board of Education was the name of one of five cases referred on Appeal to the United States Supreme Court from various state courts around the United States which were dealt with by the court together and all given the name of this particular case from the state of Kansas. Some of the other cases, such as a case from Delaware, involved gross inequality of educational provision. There, African-American children were not allowed to attend the local high school, instead having to take an hour-long bus ride to Howard High School in the industrial area of Wilmington, with much inferior facilities, student-teacher ratio, teacher qualifications and fewer curriculum offerings. The Brown case was named after the Oliver Brown, a welder for the Santa Fe Railroad, and the head of a list of twelve plaintiffs in challenging the segregation of schools in Topeka, Kansas. Here, the segregated schools were of more equal quality. Fifty years after the case, two of Brown’s daughters, retold their story in a television documentary:
Cheryl Brown Henderson: The neighborhood we lived in was an integrated neighborhood along First Street. And every morning, the African-American children that lived along that stretch—that block or two—would head off in one direction and the white children living next door would head off in another direction. And for the children, I don’t think it was problematic, you know kids are very accepting of how they live. The African-American schools were good schools. The facilities were built by the same person so we’re not talking about substandard facilities with leaky roofs and outhouses like they were in the South [of the United States]. The teachers were well trained; many of them had advanced degrees, so we weren’t talking about a poor education, you know. We’re not talking about having to walk miles because in South Carolina the children walked ten miles. In Topeka, they walked a few blocks and caught a bus. So we weren’t talking about real hardships here. We were talking about the principle of the thing …
Linda Brown Thompson: I remember going … well. like I say we lived in an integrated neighborhood and I had all of these playmates of different nationalities. And so when I found out that day that I might be able to go to their school, I was just thrilled, you know. And I remember walking over to Sumner School with my dad that day and going up the steps of the school and the school looked so big to a smaller child. And I remember going inside and my dad spoke with someone and then he went into the inner office with the principal and they left me out … to sit outside with the secretary. And while he was in the inner office, I could hear voices and hear his voice raised, you know, as the conversation went on. And then he immediately came out of the office, took me by the hand and we walked home from the school. I just couldn’t understand what was happening because I was so sure that I was going to go to school with Mona and Guinevere, Wanda, and all of my playmates.
This is what U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren said when he handed down the unanimous decision of the court:
Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. 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. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.
We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does …
We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment [of the United States Constitution, which guarantees equal rights for all under the law].(1954)
KTWU/Channel 11. 2004. “Black/White and Brown: Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka.” USA.