Separate Is Not Equal - Brown v. Board of Education

Smithsonian National Museum of American History Behring Center



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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
Legacy
Supreme Court interior

The Justices: Coming to a Decision

The Supreme Court agreed to hear Brown v. Board of Education in June 1952. Deciding the case was difficult from the start. Differing social philosophies and temperaments divided the nine justices. Chief Justice Fred Vinson and several others doubted the constitutional authority of the Court to end school segregation. And the justices worried that a decision to integrate schools might be unenforceable.


In September 1953 Vinson died, and President Dwight Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren as chief justice. His leadership in producing a unanimous decision to overturn Plessy changed the course of American history.

Vinson court

Vinson court

The Supreme Court members at the beginning of the Brown case. Front row, left to right: Felix Frankfurter, Hugo Black, Fred Vinson, Stanley Reed, and William O. Douglas. Back row: Tom Clark, Robert Jackson, Harold Burton, and Sherman Minton.
(Courtesy of Supreme Court of the United States)

Earl Warren

Earl Warren

Earl Warren joined the Court in 1953.
(Courtesy of Supreme Court of the United States)

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