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In Topeka, Kansas, on February 20, 1943, a black girl named Linda Brown was born.

When still a child in the early 1950’s, her father, Oliver Brown, was required to drive Linda to an all-black school five miles across Topeka, when an all-white school, the Sumner School, was a few blocks distant from Oliver’s home.

Oliver was angry. An assistant pastor at St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, he joined the NAACP and other plaintiffs to file a lawsuit against Topeka’s Board of Education, challenging the law that separated white students from black students in that city’s schools.

By 1952, four similar cases—in Delaware, Washington D.C., South Carolina, and Virginia—had wound their way through the courts.

Each of the five cases pointed to Section 1 of the 14th Amendment: “no State shall 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.”

And yet, state laws did deny African-American citizens “equal protection of the laws.”

Almost 60 years before, in 1896, the Supreme Court—with support from Southern states—had shoved aside the high-minded ideals of the 14th Amendment of building a multi-racial society and had replaced it with a divisive legal principle named “separate but equal.”

That principle emerged through the Supreme Court’s decision in “Plessy v. Ferguson.”

Henry Billings Brown, an associate justice on the Supreme Court from 1891 until 1906, and a lawyer from Michigan, and no relation to Oliver and Linda Brown, wrote the legal opinion.

In it, Brown argued, that “racial segregation laws did not violate the U.S. Constitution as long as the facilities for each race were equal in quality.”

By Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court justices gave their stamp of approval on existing state laws that insisted upon segregation in the schools. For decades no black children were permitted to attend the all-white schools across the Southern states.

And yet, most people understood that the white schools were superior to the black schools.

In 1954, the Supreme Court listened to arguments in the case titled “Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas,” and on May 17, 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the unanimous ruling. He wrote,

“In each of the cases, minors of the Negro race seek the aid of the courts in obtaining admission to the public schools of their community on a nonsegregated basis. . . . This segregation was alleged to deprive the plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws.

“Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law. . . . A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn.

“We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

Before the ink was dry on Warren’s ruling, Southern white leaders denounced the Warren Court’s decision and “vowed to defy it.” There was “massive resistance” across the South.

Over the next term, the Supreme Court listened to further arguments “to determine how the ruling would be imposed.” A year later, on May 31, 1955, the justices rendered a unanimous decision in “Brown II,” and it was again Earl Warren who delivered the ruling.

He instructed the Southern states to initiate desegregation plans “with all deliberate speed.”

The push-back was fierce, and that piece of history we will consider next time in these pages.