Many people were elated when Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in May 1954, the ruling that struck down state-sponsored racial segregation in America's public schools. Thurgood Marshall, chief attorney for the black families that launched the litigation, exclaimed later, "I was so happy, I was numb." The novelist Ralph Ellison wrote, "another battle of the Civil War has been won. The rest is up to us and I'm very glad. What a wonderful world of possibilities are unfolded for the children!"
Here, in a concise, compelling narrative, Bancroft Prize-winning historian James T. Patterson takes readers through the dramatic case and its fifty-year aftermath. A wide range of characters animates the story, from the little-known African-Americans who dared to challenge Jim Crow with lawsuits (at great personal cost); to Thurgood Marshall, who later became a Justice himself; to Earl Warren, who shepherded a fractured Court to a unanimous decision. Others include segregationist politicians like Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas; Presidents Eisenhower, Johnson, and Nixon; and controversial Supreme Court justices such as William Rehnquist and Clarence Thomas.
Most Americans still see Brown as a triumph--but was it? Patterson shrewdly explores the provocative questions that still swirl around the case. Could the Court--or President Eisenhower--have done more to ensure compliance with Brown? Did the decision touch off the modern civil rights movement? How useful are court-ordered busing and affirmative action against racial segregation? To what extent has racial mixing affected the academic achievement of black children? Where indeed do we go from here to realize the expectations of Marshall, Ellison, and others in 1954?
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In one of the most explosive legal decisions of the century, Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that racial segregation in America's public schools was unconstitutional. The chief attorney for the African American families who initiated the legal challenge was Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first black person to serve as a Supreme Court Justice. In this brief, detailed book, historian James Patterson reconstructs the complex history of the watershed 1954 case, from its legal precursors to its troubling legacy. "To be sure, Brown called for changes that the Court itself could not enforce," he writes. "In time, however, some of those changes came to pass, even in schools, those most highly sensitive of institutions."
Patterson outlines the stories of several influential pre-Brown cases and details the thinking and exploits of the legal minds involved with Brown, including Marshall and Chief Justice Earl Warren. He also follows the various responses to the decision by those most affected by it, including bigoted Arkansas governor Orval Faubus as well as President Dwight Eisenhower. More than a simple chronology, Brown v. Board of Education raises many questions about America's unfinished business of truly democratizing its educational system once and for all. Both instructive and disturbing, this book calls for us to question whether we will turn back the clock or demand movement forward. --Eugene Holley Jr.About the Author:
James T. Patterson won the Bancroft Prize in History for Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974 (OUP, 1996). Author of numerous books concerning modern American life, he is Ford Foundation Professor of History at Brown University.
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