Separate Is Not Equal - Brown v. Board of Education

Smithsonian National Museum of American History Behring Center

Segregated America
The Battleground
  • The Educated Citizen
  • Quest for Education
  • Pursuit of Equality
Legal Campaign
Five Communities Change a Nation
The Decision

The Battleground: Separate and Unequal Education

Print from 1839 anti-slavery almanac

After the Civil War, millions of formerly enslaved African Americans hoped to join the larger society as full and equal citizens. Although some white Americans welcomed them, others used people’s ignorance, racism, and self-interest to sustain and spread racial divisions. By 1900, new laws and old customs in the North and the South had created a segregated society that condemned Americans of color to second-class citizenship.

Denied public educational resources, people of color strengthened their own schools and communities and fought for the resources that had been unjustly denied to their children. Parents’ demands for better schools became a crucial part of the larger struggle for civil rights.