Key Moments in the Fight for Civil Rights

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May, 1954 – Brown v. Board of Education


Linda Brown with parents Leola and Oliver and little sister Terry in front of their house in Kansas, 1953. (Photo by Carl Iwasaki/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

When, in 1951, the Sumner School in Topeka, Kansas refuses to admit 9-year-old Linda Brown because she is black, it unknowingly sets the stage for the Supreme Court ruling that would mandate desegregation of all public schools, push segregation and Jim Crow into the public eye and fuel what would become a decades-long civil rights movement. Brown’s case is one of several class action lawsuits brought to the Supreme Court by the NAACP on behalf of black schoolchildren. The Court holds, unanimously, that racial segregation in public schools violates a clause of the Fourteenth Amendment that prohibits a state from denying anyone under its jurisdiction equal protection under the law. It overturns Plessy v. Ferguson, an 1896 decision that held that segregated public facilities were legal so long as they were equal. “We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place,” writes Chief Justice Earl Warren in the opinion of the Court. “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

Many officials in the most segregated states feel that the Court’s decision violates states’ rights, and implement only token measures to begin desegregation. Some officials are openly defiant, challenging the decision from different angles in court and passing laws to circumvent it. Integration proceeds very slowly.



Much of this text is excerpted, with permission, from the website for the American Experience series Eyes on the Prize. Read more about these events and others on that site.

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  • jaime garfield

    A good book to read is Bitter Fruit .heavy and beautiful

  • Kansas Proud

    Sadly, this historic landmark has been allowed to deteriorate to the point it will cost millions to restore to a useable condition and will most likely be torn down due to its dilapidated condition. Such an unfortunate end to this landmark building’s role as a catalyst for equal and integrated educational opportunities for all.

  • Kansas Proud

    “this historic landmark” being Sumner Elementary in Topeka, KS.

  • Anonymous

    Sadly the fake, foundation funded left censors the involvement of one Lee Harvey Oswald– look I said one– in voter registration in a Northern Louisiana town during the year of our lord, 1963. Just one more adventure for Mr. Ubiquity.

  • Elliott Lauderdale

    Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was instrumental in Project C and was recognized for the same by the re-naming the airport.

  • Anonymous

    Racism is sort of a mental illness where people choose a multiple of single group of people and decide that they are inferior. This is done in a desperate attempt to elevate themselves. It does not work. Instead it makes the one imbued with hate all the more despicable. It is a crying shame that people get away with this behavior and a national disgrace that these kind of hate mongers can effectively hold others back from living their full potential.

  • David Appleby

    Let’s give the desegregation of schools in Hoxie, Arkansas in 1955, and the battle that followed, its due place in this history. Little Rock is important but it was the outcome of what happened earlier in Hoxie.

  • Kevin M

    The conversation regarding race should be a personal conversation; one can not change a legacy of race hate through the medium of television or public conversation. The raciest can rise to the challenge by taking a long and hard look at the struggles of their ancestors living in a class based society before deciding to come to this country. They will find the same predjudice and hatreds they suffered in their old country now being acted out in America. sit down and have the convocation with yourself.

  • Jane

    I recommend reading, “The Last War” on Racism, Spirituality and the Future of Civilization by M.L. Perry. The book shows how racism developed, why society became despiritualized, and what happened to our sense of oneness. Professor Perry uses the analogy of an archeological did to survey the historical roots of racism and the despiritualization of society, century by century, back from the modern day to their primitive, prehistoric past.

    A magnificent read that will help to illuminate and heal all concerned with the sickness of racism.

  • konnie

    I would include Bobby Kennedy’s walk thru was one of the moments that shocked white America and embarrassed the country. apparently we need another expose’. allowing the kochroaches and the polks to blind the public and blame poverty on the poor needs to be a rallying cry once again.

  • Anonymous

    To echo this great presidents words, We do not have a rich or poor problem. We
    have an American problem.

  • Anonymous

    Kansas has not come very far!