Separate Is Not Equal - Brown v. Board of Education

Smithsonian National Museum of American History Behring Center

Segregated America
The Battleground
Legal Campaign
Five Communities Change a Nation
The Decision
  • Defenders of Segregation
  • Segregationists’ Argument
  • Challengers of Segregation
  • Integrationists’ Argument
  • Reaching a Decision
  • Court’s Decision
  • Timeline
Slip opinion

The Court’s Decision

Earl Warren wrote the decision for the Court. He agreed with the civil rights attorneys that it was not clear whether the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment intended to permit segregated public education. The doctrine of separate but equal did not appear until 1896, he noted, and it pertained to transportation, not education.

More importantly, he said, the present was at issue, not the past. Education was perhaps the most vital function of state and local governments, and racial segregation of any kind deprived African Americans of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment and due process under the Fifth Amendment.

“ 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, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group...Any language in contrary to this finding is rejected. We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. ”
—Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
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