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HISTORIC ARTICLE
HISTORIC ARTICLE

May 17, 1954 CE: Brown v. Board

May 17, 1954 CE: Brown v. Board

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in public schools in its landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling.

Grades

5 - 8

Subjects

Social Studies, U.S. History

Selected text level

On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in public schools. The ruling, ending the five-year case of Oliver Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, was a unanimous decision. Brown, actually a collection of five individual cases arguing against school segregation, overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine outlined in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case. Brown ruled that racial segregation itself was unconstitutional. In particular, such segregation violated the so-called “equal protection clause” of the United States Constitution's 14th Amendment: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The Brown decision had an enormous impact on public schools in the U.S. In Topeka, elementary schools desegregated within two years. (Middle and high schools had already been integrated.) However, not all states accepted the Supreme Court’s decision. In the state of Virginia, for instance, a campaign called “Massive Resistance” opposed desegregation. Many public schools in Virginia closed down rather than accepting integration. Virginia did not entirely integrate its public schools until the 1970s.

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National Geographic Society
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National Geographic Society
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Last Updated

August 9, 2022

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