The Times West Virginian

Local News

May 17, 2014

Brown v. Board of Education historic, but court ‘decision doesn’t change the hearts and minds of people’

FAIRMONT — Sixty years ago today, on May 17, 1954, the courts decided that separate is not equal.

Brown v. Board of Education was a combination of five separate cases brought to the U.S. Supreme Court surrounding the issue of segregation in public schools and, particularly, whether or not black children were getting an equal education to that of white children.

After much deliberation, Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the court’s decision: Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal and schools should integrate with all deliberate speed.

But it wasn’t that easy.

Before there was Brown, there was Plessy.

After the Civil War, many state Legislatures passed what are known as Jim Crow Laws, which stated black and white citizens must be kept separate. Blacks were not allowed to ride the same buses or use the same public facilities, among other things.

Segregation by law, referred to as de jure, was implemented.

“The issue really was what grew out of the decision in the Plessy v. Ferguson (court case) ... that said, essentially, separate accommodations for African-Americans, as long as they were equal, was fine,” said Kitty Dooley, a Fairmont native and lawyer at The Dooley Law Firm in Charleston.

The country lived mostly separated until 1954, but things did not suddenly change that year.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was formed in 1909 as a result of the Niagara Conference at Harpers Ferry in 1906, at which black men gathered to discuss the social issues surrounding black Americans.

The NAACP fought for equal opportunity and made strides in gaining entrance to higher education before the Brown decision.

“The groundwork was laid in higher education, and then when Brown and these other cases came together, the question was if, under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which guaranteed equal protection of the law, whether the segregated schools for African-Americans were, in fact, equal to the white schools when they segregated by law,” Dooley explained.

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