By: Jonathan Wheeler
In 1964, Americans waited in anticipation for a decision by the United States Supreme Court. Nine men, all White American, would soon give a decision for which Americans waited two years. In just a few moments, Americans everywhere would know if Black American students and White American students would be able to study together in the same southern schools. The South knew all too well what might happen if the Topeka Board of Education lost their case to Oliver Brown. The “Separate but equal,” doctrine was something that was on the forefront of every American’s mind, particularly in the South.
For years, many White Americans in the South feared desegregating schools. According to scholar Lucas A. Powe Jr. (University of Texas at Austin), if schools were desegregated, interracial marriage would be easier. Black American students and White American students would get to know each other and become friends, possibly begin dating and even get married. Powe argues that this was the strongest taboo that the South held. Beyond the fear of interracial marriage, family members of integrated schools would have to fraternize with one another, and most importantly, Black Americans would receive an adequate education.
After seventeen months, the all White Supreme Court of the United States of America made a unanimous decision: Separate but equal had no place in the American education system because it violated the terms of the Fourteenth amendment. The Supreme Court made its decision claiming that separate but equal was not equal, and could never be equal because they felt that segregation made Colored children feel inferior. In the eyes of America’s highest court, the psychological consequences of separate but equal caused an impediment in the learning capabilities of children from the moment they set foot into a classroom. Ideally, children should be able to go to school and think about school, and not question why they must be quarantined away from White students. The Supreme Court believed this is what Separate but equal accomplished.
A very important aspect of that Supreme Court decision that is often overlooked is the power in a unanimous vote. With nine justices, it is inevitable that they will all have different political beliefs, therefore making it almost impossible to get a unanimous vote on social issues that divide the country. A unanimous vote transcends socio-political ideology and Constitutional interpretation, because it says loud and clear that the issue on which they voted is not an issue of opinion, nor is it an issue of Constitutional interpretation. A unanimous vote striking Separate but equal screams to all Americans that the Constitution was being conspicuously defied. No one would ever again be able to argue against Brown v. Board of Ed. because they would have no ability to cite the past precedent of any Supreme Court justice.
No matter what Americans argue, it is an incontrovertible fact that Brown v. Board of Ed. made way for Black Americans to have the ability to achieve, something they never had before. Regardless of whether or not a Black American was given an opportunity because he was a Black American, he now had an opportunity that he never had before. To most, that’s everything. The cyclical process of deprivation leading to deprivation, generation after generation, was coming to an end. Black Americans were being forced out of what held them back for so long and now had the ability to showcase their own personal achievements. For the first time, because of a Supreme Court that happened to be all White American, Black Americans would be given the ability to step outside of the giant glass wall that blocked their way, and claim their place in American society for decades to come.
Photo By The Nation Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior- The U.S. Supreme
Court justices who voted unanimously in the Brown decision.” 1964