AFAM 162: African American History: From Emancipation to the Present (2010)
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African American History: From Emancipation to the Present (2010)
AFAM 162 - Lecture 13 - The Road to Brown and Little Rock
Chapter 1. A Tallying of the State of Segregation in 1951 [00:00:00]
Professor Jonathan Holloway: I want to start with, I guess for lack of a better word, two vignettes. One, and it really is lack of a better word, vignette is actually a series of, of statistics. You don’t need to keep them from your notes, but I want you to understand them from an impressionistic point of view. These–this is a tallying of the state of segregation in 1951. It’s a random point in time in the South. In May of 1951, the state of Texas did not allow interracial boxing matches. Florida did not allow white and black students to use the same editions of textbooks. In Alabama, a white woman was not allowed to take care of a black male patient. North Carolina required separate washrooms in its factories. South Carolina required them in its cotton mills. Four other states required them in their mines. In six states–and there’s a, I’m going to be reading a list in numbers of states. They’re overlapping in different combinations, I’m quite sure–in six states, white and black prisoners could not be chained together.
In seven states, parks, playgrounds, bathing and fishing and boating facilities, amusement parks, race tracks, pool halls, circuses, theaters and public halls were all segregated. Ten states required separate waiting rooms for bus and train travelers. Fourteen states required black passengers to ride in the back of buses and streetcars. Some other combination of fourteen states segregated railroad passengers on trips within their borders. Some other combination of fourteen states required mental–segregated mental patients. Some seventeen states required segregation of public schools. Four other states permitted the practice if local communities wished it. And in, and in Washington DC, the custom had prevailed for nearly ninety years. In eleven, in eleven states–and this one I find is actually breathtaking for the absurdity of all of this, or maybe even the passion for all of this–in eleven states or eleven states operated separate schools for the blind. So even if you could not see each other, you could not be in the same space if you were white and if you were black. It’s a thorough going segregation across many different lines, many different vectors, of how you operate as a citizen in the world.
Chapter 2. Melba Beals’ Memoir: Warriors Don’t Cry [00:02:51]
Now that’s 1950, fifty-one. I want to read to you an excerpt from the memoir Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Beals, who was one of the, who would become one of the, would become one of the Little Rock Nine, who’d deseg–desegregate Central High School. We’ll be talking–I’ll talk a little bit about Central High School in Monday’s lecture. We’re actually chronologically not getting up to that point in today’s lecture. But I want to read to you an excerpt from 1954–of events that happened in 1954–to help underscore, undergird the extent to which the kind of higher level organizing and political work and legal affairs that will be the bulk of today’s lecture, to underscore the way in which these things really made themselves manifest on the ground. So Melba Beals writes very early in her book, reflecting back to when she was, I believe, twelve years old. She’s walking back home from school on the day that Brown v., Brown v., Brown versus the Board of Education decision had been announced. And teachers all–the teachers told their students, black teachers, black students, “Go straight home. Don’t take any shortcuts. Just go straight home.”
Someone comes to her rescue within about four or five seconds of this moment, before she’s actually raped. One of her classmates she didn’t really know that well knocks the guy over the head with a brick and she’s able to escape to safety. Thus begins her journey towards becoming one of the Little Rock Nine. These are the memories of a twelve year old.
Now I want to set that stage about systemic segregation and the ways in which people were, I mean from my personal perspective, were driven mad by the Supreme–Supreme Court decision of fifty-four. To sort of underscore, for lack of a better phrase, the intensity of the moment, a period of profound ambiguity in this country and a period of profound change for blacks as well as whites, conservatives as well as liberals. And over the course of today’s lecture and really Monday’s lecture, we’re going to start canvassing the ways in which–[student sneezes] Bless You–the ways in which this period of, of incredible instability in the United States was made, was felt on many different levels, in different ways. So much of today’s lecture is context, for much of the, for going across the 1940s up to Brown v. Board.
Chapter 3. The Fair Employment Practices Committee [00:07:57]
Now I ended the last lecture before the midterm talking about A. Philip Randolph’s March on Washington Movement, his bluff with FDR, FDR’s issuing of Executive Order 8802, and the creation of the FEPC. I was trying to cram a lot of things into the lecture. Give me two minutes to talk about the FEPC very quickly and move us into the 1940s.
The FEPC, Fair Employment–Fair Employment Practices Commission–Committee, held high profile hearings in major cities about segregation in defense industry factories. But it was essentially powerless to do anything except for embarrass the companies and the factories that are, that are continuing these practices. Now in terms of, so literal change, the FEPC is not doing much, as it turns out. But again, since we’re wrestling with–I, I’ve been talking about the tension between the symbolic and the real. At the symbolic level, the FEPC contributes to the, to blacks’ reorientation away from notions of, you know, systems of white patronage. They have to rely on white patrons to make ends meet, but they could turn to the federal government instead, but the federal government, and I started talking about it with the Black Cabinet through Marian Anderson’s concert on Easter Sunday, 1939, the federal government is now standing in, in complicated ways, certainly, but still standing in and keeping an eye on the quality of black life.
Chapter 4. The March on Washington Movement and the Congress on Racial Equality [00:09:32]
Well, here we are in 1941 and 1942, the U.S. is now involved in the Second World War. And as you’ll remember from going back to the First World War, as, as the U.S. is about to get involved and W. E. B. Du Bois called on African Americans to close ranks, but then called on them to return fighting. You have black soldiers enlisting in terrifically large numbers. You have a lot of the same kind of troubling dynamics about training black soldiers, their treatment abroad, positive by foreign troops and foreign citizens and negative by U.S. troops. And you have the treatment coming home that is scandalous. The Pittsburgh Courier, along with the Chicago Defender, the two most important black newspapers of the day, the Pittsburgh Courier, aware that the same dynamic might repeat itself, that is, you know, black soldiers fighting for citizenship rights and being denied them, in February of 1942 begins a campaign. It’s–It is a publicity campaign; it’s nothing beyond that, but it becomes very popular. It’s the Double V campaign, Double V, two Vs: that there would be victory over fascism abroad and victory over racial discrimination at home. This is just like Du Bois’s call, “We return. We return from fighting. We return fighting.” Okay? But twenty-three years have passed. It’s the same call, it’s the same agenda. That’s the important thing to understand.
Now Randolph bluffs FDR into signing this executive order, and Randolph realizes he has an important opportunity here to make something out of this bluff and this March on Washington Movement becomes an organization, not just one person trying to organize a march, but it actually becomes its own grassroots organization, the MO–MOWM. There’s no easy way to say it. The March on Washington Movement embodies a certain set of tactics and they are, for lack of a better phrase, racial tactics. Randolph, as you already know, was an anti-communist. He was deeply concerned about white communists infiltrating the National Negro Congress and when it happened, he broke from it. And he saw that the March on Washington Movement was a way–by–he kept it all-black. I should have said that first. It was an all-black movement. He saw by keeping it all-black, it would reduce or even eliminate the chance that the Communist Party would infiltrate the organization, since the Communist Party was predominantly white. But Randolph was very clear, since we’re in a time of war, to go to great ends to make sure his movement was not considered black nationalist. Although it’s all-black, it’s not black nationalist. And Randolph declares, and I’m quoting here:
The March on Washington Movement is all-black. It certainly welcomes white support, but not within the organization itself, and it is profoundly patriotic as far as its assertions–as far as its assertions are concerned. On the ground, the March on Washington Movement engaged in mass, nonviolent, direct action, a blend of Gandhi’s tactics and Randolph’s experiences with labor sit-down strikes. He believed in small direct actions, you know, going into one region or, you know, a part of the country with small and highly symbolic acts of resistance. You know it has, It’s sort of a hodgepodge of org–of, of, of , of groups operating under its banner, doing different things in different places, but all embracing an all-black agenda, an all-black constituency, mass nonviolent, direct action.
There’s another group that’s founded in 1942, a year after the March on Washington Movement, that embraced this secular–that embraced a different agenda from the March on Washington–a different organizing agenda, pardon me, from the March on Washington Movement. It was interracial civil rights organization called the Congress on Racial Equality, CORE, Congress on Racial Equality, an off-shoot of the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation. CORE was founded in 1942. Its director was James Farmer, and one of the principal organizers was a man, was a man named Bayard Rustin, someone we’ll hear more about in the next couple of weeks. CORE and the March on Washington Movement were two of the main groups operating in, in the 1940s to educate blacks to use nonviolent direct action. So they shared that strategic logic.
CORE was interracial; March on Washington Movement was all-black. The March on Washington Movement built its base on the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Maids Union, using Randolph’s organizing skills, and really try to reach out to lower-class blacks as well. CORE was significantly smaller than March on Washington Movement, and it was focused on essentially the demographic you represent: college aged student, highly educated, interracial, and essentially elitist. CORE’s mission statement says that it has one purpose: to eliminate racial discrimination, and it has one method: interracial nonviolent, direct action. And of course, style was to test, to negotiate, to confer and then to sit-in. Test, negotiate, confer, and sit-in.
Now I’m going to move away from these two groups rather quickly, but I wanted you to understand these different organizing logics, although they’re sharing the same strategic mode of engagement. Understand they’re happening in the 1940s as well, because as I hope to make clear through this lecture and through much of the next couple of weeks’ lectures, it’s very critical you start to re-periodize the Civil Rights Movement. The kinds of things that I just mentioned here, I hope that you will recognize from your basic high school American History class, talking about the Civil Rights Movement, that famous movement between fifty-four and sixty-eight, at the most, okay? The strategies of, of, of, sort of the high theater of the Civil Rights Movement roots go back to the 1940s and beyond, with direct corrections and a, a direct lineage of, of sorts, of resistance. You need to understand this; it’s rather important.
Chapter 5. Politics in the 1940s: A Period of Transition and War [00:17:13]
Now what’s happening in the 1940s? What’s the scene in which the March on Washington Movement and CORE are operating? The country is in transition. It’s in war. As I already mentioned, the Great Migration happening in the first two decades of the twentieth century. There’s another migration happening now that dwarfs the Great Migration, a migration of African Americans, many of whom are following defense industry jobs out west and in the North. Essentially, the black population you know of in Los Angeles is there because of, of defense industry jobs and factory jobs during this period of time. This is the moment, over the next decade, when African Americans move from being predominantly a rural population–I think it’s about forty percent at that point–to over fifty or fifty-five percent urban. So it’s a transition, profound transition, for African Americans, as far as demographics are concerned.
Now with this migration, like the first Great Migration, you have crisis, pressure for housing, cultural styles, political battlefields. Nineteen forty-three is a spectacular year for crisis. You have race riots happening in the summer of forty-three in forty-seven different cities. One of the most famous is the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles, which involved not blacks in this case, but Mexicans, and Mexican Americans, and white navy–I think it’s navy. I’m pretty sure it’s navy–members of the navy attacking Los Angelinos who happened to be Mexican, for straying across racial and social lines. The worst riot happens in Detroit, a mere ten days before a March on Washington Movement convention in Chicago. The riot, in all of its violence, colored the March on Washington Movement in Chicago–convention in Chicago, and so militant race leadership is seen as too provocative and un-American. And really, people can deny the fact that blacks actually were beginning to get jobs in these factories, because factories were so desperate for workers.
You have migration, racial violence, a country at war, the March on Washington Movement agitating, making some headway as far as its long-term goals, but also having a narrower range in which it could operate, because, you know, appearing un-American is the last thing you want to do at this moment in time. It’s something that Randolph himself articulates. Meanwhile, membership in the NAACP skyrockets, as the organiza–organization appears to be a more moderate and reasonable location for civil rights agitation than the all-black March on Washington Movement, even though it’s making, it’s a pro-American stance, and more moderate than this upstart CORE that people don’t really know what to make of yet. So you have now, by the mid-1940s, the NAACP becoming, turning into this moderate organization, by outward appearances, where it was on the edge, sort of the avant garde, when it was founded, and for the first decade, decade, two decades of its existence. Things are shifting.
Things shift fundamentally in 1944 in a legal case, Smith v. Allwright, that outlaws the white, outlaws the white-only primary. And I have to apologize. I have to go really quickly through a lot of these things, because I lost a lecture by the midterm, so I’m not going to get into the details. But in the Smith v. Allwright case, the white, white primaries, white primaries are now outlawed, and now liberal groups, broadly defined, start going after a whole set of different means of exclusion, of preserving, essentially an all-white vote. Groups start going after literacy tests that were, that were at the point of absurdity, where a registrar could actually ask somebody, “How many bubbles are there in a bar of soap?” as a way to exclude them. People knew they had to act in terms of trying to expand the right to vote, or access to the ballot box, ballot box, by just looking at Mississippi.
In Mississippi, you have over three hundred and fifty thousand blacks who are eligible to register, register to vote. Mississippi has a huge black population. And of that three hundred and fifty thousand, only twenty-five hundred manage to vote in 1946. It’s an all-white vote, because of all the various ways in which Mississippi registrars and voters are being told to eliminate the black vote. In fact, very famously, Senator Bilbo from, from Mississippi, who was a virulent racist, would go around organizing registrars of voters of–before actual election night, telling them all these different ways in which you can eliminate the black vote, and said, you know, “If worst comes to worst, you all know the most effective strategy is the night before the election, and you know what I mean,” I mean essentially calling for them to rally the Klan to eliminate black vote. Again, the country’s in–under incredible stress because of these transitions going on.
Between forty-six and forty-eight at the presidential level, some more radical changes are happening. FDR had died in office already. Now Harry Truman is the President, and he’s fighting for his political life. The Democratic Party’s on the verge of being split. Recognizing that there’s incredible dissension amongst the Democratic ranks, Southern Democrats are very unhappy with the trends in what’s happening in the country, supported by the federal government, that entity that blacks saw as a place of salvation. Truman doesn’t know what to do, and so he actually lets–he sort of throws a bone to his antagonists in the Democratic Party and lets Congress kill the FEPC. So now there’s no more publicity campaign machine to sort of embarrass factories into employing African Americans and practicing non-discrimination policies. Truman lets Congress kill the FEPC but knows he needs the black vote to win election. It was clear when FDR got elected in 1944, it was clear that the black vote is what brought him, got him into office, and Truman can’t lose it.
So Truman raises the stakes, after killing the FEPC, and appoints a distinguished panel to serve as the President’s Commission on Civil Rights, which would recommend over time more adequate means and procedures for the protection of civil rights for U.S. citizens. In October Forty-Seven, it issues its, its report, called “To Secure These Rights,” a landmark document. “To Secure These Rights” defined the nation’s civil rights agenda for the next generation. The commission noted the many restrictions on blacks and urged that each person, regardless of race, color, or national origin, should have access to equal opportunity in securing education, decent housing, and jobs. Among its proposals, the commission suggested anti-lynching and anti-poll tax laws, a permanent FEPC, and strengthen–strengthening the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. The commission went much further than Southern Democrats ever imagined they would dare to go, further than Truman thought they would actually go. But he called this commission together and so he had to face a choice, what to do.
So in February of 1948, Truman rolls the dice and calls for the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations. Southerners immediately threaten a filibuster and Truman, unable to secure support from Congress or action from Congress, moves ahead using executive authority. And among other things, he bolsters the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, appoints the first black judge to the federal bench, names several other blacks to high ranking administrative positions, and most important, on July 26th of 1948, he issued the executive order abolishing segregation in the armed forces and ordered full integration of all the services. The executive orders that grow out of this array of changes are 9980, nine-nine-eight-zero, establishing fair employment practices in the federal government, and the next one immediately, so you can see he’s going on a tear, Executive Order 9981 establishes the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Forces, the decree that leads to the desegregation order to the military. Now it’s the order. The military takes its sweet old time desegregating, but the order’s issued in 1948, growing out of this–Truman’s political move to sort of clarify the mess of the Democratic Party, make it known to African Americans that he was going to support them, the Democratic Party would support them.
But was it enough? Henry Wallace, who had been a former Vice President of FDR, before he got booted, very progressive and challenges Truman from the left. The real challenge comes from the right, within the Democratic Party, let me be clear. Truman’s support for a strong civil rights platform for the Democratic, Democratic convention that was coming up is opposed by conservative Democrats. And they say, “If you bring this platform to the convention floor, we will leave.” Truman brought the platform to the convention floor and conservative Democrats from Southern states bolt and form what is popularly known as the Dixiecrat Party, with Strom Thurmond as its presidential candidate. The Democratic Party is split and it’s quite unclear what’s going to happen. Now, what happens is that Truman wins by a hair’s breath, and again, without black support, he never would have been elected to a full term as President.
Chapter 6. Legal Transformations in the 1940s: Brown v. Board of Education [00:28:29]
Now that’s what’s happening on sort of the high political stage throughout the 1940s. Let me quickly canvass what’s happening, it’s still politics of course, but in the legal arena, over this period, to help you understand another element of this, of this shift that’s happening in the country on these issues. And what I want to give you is the legal history of Brown v. Board of Education. That’s where this is heading up to. The legal history begins at Howard University Law School. I already mentioned before the National–the New Negro Alliance, excuse me, formed in 1933, relied upon law school students and law professors at Howard University Law School to argue its case that eventually becomes a Supreme Court decision in 1930–I forgot my notes. I’ll just guess thirty-seven, I’m blanking right now. But the battle begins at Howard University Law School. Excuse me, I’ve lost track for a second. There we go.
Charles Houston, the attorney who also spearheads its citizens campaign for Marian Anderson’s concert, he’s brought in to head up the law school in the late-1920s, to bring it up to fully accredited status. He starts hiring professors of law. Some of the great legal jurists of the next twenty and thirty years, forty years would actually start at Howard University Law School as professors, and they would train that first cadre of civil rights attorneys. In fact, the first civil rights law class in the country was taught at Howard during this period. The most famous student during the period, this, this early-1930s, is Thurgood Marshall. Thurgood Marshall, a native of Maryland, wanted to go to the University of Maryland School of Law, but by practice, blacks were not admitted, so he had to go to–he ended up going to Howard University. And at that very small law school with some very intense faculty, he goes through sort of a boot camp for several years, and comes out with the kind of legalized training, with special attention to civil rights cases.
Marshall scores his first major court victory along these lines in 1935, in a case called Murray versus Pearson. In this case, a guy named Donald Murray was not allowed to enter the University of Maryland because he was black. Raymond Pearson, the president of the University of Maryland–so it’s the student versus the president as far as naming conventions, Murray versus Pearson–said that Murray could obtain separate but equal training at the Princess Anne Academy, also in the state of Maryland. However, the Princess Anne Academy did not offer a legal degree, which is what Murray was actually trying to obtain. Making a long story short, Marshall and his mentor, now increasingly colleague, Charles Houston, who’s now the head of the Legal Defense Fund at NAACP, argue the case up to the Supreme Court. And the court declares that the University of Maryland, because it did not have a separate and equal facility for teaching law, had to let Murray in. Okay, that’s 1935.
Based on the success of that case, Houston brings Marshall over to the NAACP and they start traveling from southern courthouse to a southern courthouse to southern courthouse, filing law–lawsuits for black students and teachers. In 1938, in the case–these are Supreme Court cases by the way–Gaines v. Canada. Lloyd Gaines is the plaintiff and Canada—who is, I’m missing the first name here, It’s the last name of the registrar of the University of Missouri. So the case is called Gaines v. Canada. It’s a student versus the registrar of the University of Missouri. The University of Missouri refused to admit Lloyd Gaines, African American, to its law school because the school was only for whites. It was common in Missouri for the state to send black students to neighboring states for courses of study not offered by Missouri’s black schools. Since Missouri did not have a separate but equal law school for blacks, the Supreme Court declares that Gaines had to be allowed to attend the University of Missouri Law School.
So you have in Murray v. Pearson, there’s no separate institution offering a law degree in Maryland, so you have to let, admit Murray into the school of law. In Gaines v. Canada, University of Missouri, the idea of shipping a student out of state–which was not just a Missouri practice by the way. A lot of southern students–states did this–was ruled unconstitutional. The state had to provide state-funded separate but equal legal facility. Now, I mean, one might ask, why’s, why would a state even, you know, provide these fellowships, scholarships to get the students educated in law school if not in their own state? The thinking was, you got them out of the state, they would stay out of the state. So the south was trying to export black legal, potential legal talent to northern places mainly. To get that “problem” out of their state, they’d pay for them to leave. The Supreme Court says, “Can’t do it.” That’s 1938, if I didn’t mention that.
Houston and Marshall keep plugging away, filing the lawsuits, poking at the system. In 1946, they take on the case of a woman named Ada Sipuel. In forty-six, Sipuel had applied to the University of Oklahoma Law School and was denied because of race. And in 1948, the Supreme Court finally rules that Oklahoma had to provide instruction for blacks equal to that of whites. So this is now–not following—they’re not breaking new ground here. They’re following a precedent that was there in the Donald v. Murray, bounded by Gaines v. Canada, say you can’t ship her out some place else. So Oklahoma says, “All right, well we’re going to comply. We’re not going to admit her to our law school, to the white law school. We’ll build a law school for her.” And so in a few months’ time the state of Oklahoma creates the Langston University School of Law, located at the state capital, thus requiring further litigation to demonstrate that the law school was inferior to the University of Oklahoma’s law school.
I mean, the lawyers were, were claiming, “You cannot build a law school in a few months,” and it really was just done in a few months, “designed to educate blacks in the state and suggest that it’s even near equal to what the University of Oklahoma’s already established law school provides.” They don’t have the resources, they don’t have the access, they don’t have the training available to them. So further litigation ensues and in 1949, Oklahoma, the University of Oklahoma decides to admit Sipuel, thus breaking the color line for the School of Law there. Sipuel becomes not just the first black woman, or black, to integrate in the University of Oklahom–Oklahoma Law School, she’s the first black woman to attend an all-white law school in the entire South. The law school admits here and gives her a special chair. That’s nice, it seems, right? Well, the chair is marked “colored” and it’s roped off from the rest of the class. She’s in the same classroom but in a roped off section of one.
Now as it happens, her classmates and teachers actually welcome her into the classroom. The resistance is coming from someplace else, institutionally or governmentally. Stories abound, and Sipuel is—would, would support this, that students shared their notes with her, studied with her, helped her catch up on material if she happened to miss some of it. Sipuel had to eat in a separate section of the, of a separate and chained off and guarded section in the law school cafeteria, and white students would crawl under the chain and eat with her when the guards weren’t around. Her law student tuition are supported by hundreds of small donations and, she would recount later, she believed she owed it to all those who supported her that she had to ser—that she had to make it. Now actually, if you look up on the website, and I imagine one or two might do it right now, even though I hope you don’t, the University of Oklahom–Oklahoma Law School is named for Ada Sipuel now. This is also a generational change of another kind of order.
In any event, the important thing about all these different cases, these three sort of landmark cases, they shared some things in common. They’re all about law schools. They’re all about law schools. Marshall and Houston believed that they had to find test cases that would create the greatest chance of sympathy from judges and eventually Supreme Court justices. And so they thought by bringing to their attention, to the judges’ attention, people who wanted to be like them, study the law, and people who–and this is important, and I’ll speak more about it on Monday–who were astonishingly good students. They had to be perfect students. By bringing incredible students in front of them who are trying to become lawyers, these judges might be, you know, have thought, “Well, gosh, this really is a silly system. We need to find some other way, other way around it.” So that’s one part about it. It’s just about, it’s just about access to law schools.
Now what it’s also, and probably even more important–not even probably–definitely more important about these law school, these cases, these legal cases, is that none of them challenged Plessy v. Ferguson. All of them are articulated upon the grounds of, there is no separate but equal, equal institution for these black plaintiffs to attend. In Maryland, in Missouri, in Oklahoma, in each of those cases, they’re saying there’s no separate but equal institution. Oklahoma tried making one. It wasn’t equal enough. It was separate but not equal. So these–this is a nice and slow and gentle, I mean according to them, approach to try to break down segregation in higher education. Based on the success they’re meeting with the law schools, they start going after graduate schools.
So professional schools into graduate schools, and then they start–I mean, and basically the writing is now on the wall. People see this. They realize the trajectory of these attorneys is heading sort of downward in a sense, hierarchically, and the next battle field is going to be secondary and primary schools. Southern states recognize this and feverishly start trying to improve black schools, which were horrible. I mean the, the statistics are kind of shocking about how poorly funded these schools were, you know, only used textbooks, no transportation. Southern states try–start trying pouring, pouring money into these schools, trying to improve them, so they could actually survive a test of separate but equal. But they’re so bad, they can’t catch up.
So the attorneys, NAACP attorneys, start focusing now on elementary and secondary schools and challenging the very principle of segregation in education—that seg–that segregation on racial lines was unconstitutional. They, as they’re going around setting up these test cases, there are five cases all happening at the same time that rise to the Supreme Court’s attention, and the Supreme–Supreme Court bundles them together. There are cases in South Carolina, Virginia, Kansas, Delaware, and the District of Columbia. They bundle them together under Brown, the father of two girls integrating–trying to integrate schools in Topeka, Kansas. But that’s–this is one case representing many other cases. The attorney general of the United States actually calls for the end of segregation, but the reasoning is revealing. He wrote that,
He’s not talking about, “Hey, we need to educate our citizens.” It’s like, “This looks bad on the international scene. It’s embarrassing and it’s, it’s affecting negatively our potential to make change around the world.” Cutting to the chase, Brown versus the Board of Education makes it to the Supreme Court, and the ruling is offered in May of 1954. Earl Warren, the very new Chief Justice, writes the opinion for a unanimous court that says,
Separation of the races and facilities is inherently unequal, based on equal protection clause in the Fourteenth Amendment. Now, very quickly, a few words about Earl Warren himself because it’s actually fascinating. He’s a—while the, while these cases are being bundled and brought up through the, the system, he’s not the Chief Justice. He’s appointed that position–He’s not even on the Supreme Court. He’s appointed to that position after the Chief Justice, Fred Vincent, dies. Someone, jurists, legal, legal historians think it was probably going to go against Brown. Eisenhower, now the President of the United States, appoints what others thought a mere politician to the Supreme Court, thus angering other associate justices who thought they were going to be the next Chief Justice. And Warren would actually go on to become a great mediator on the court, using his political skills. And becomes on– becomes a great civil rights jurist, someone Eisenhower would call “the greatest mistake of his presidency,” appointing Warren to the Supreme Court.
Now Warren himself did not have a sterling civil liberties record. In fact, it was pretty horrible. When he was the attorney general of California in 1942, he led the move to detain and then inter Japanese Americans. And as he told a conference of his fellow governors in 1943, his first year as governor of California,
This is one of the great civil rights justices speaking before he was elevated to that position. So people doing some basic psychoanalysis, armchair psychoanalysis, saying Warren is trying–I mean is horrified in retrospect over what he did in a moment of war, what he felt was right at the time, to deny citizenship rights to so many people, and was trying to sort of cleanse himself. Now there’s much more to be said about Brown v. Board of Education, the legal court case. But this part is important to know, in the sense that Warren comes in out of the blue. It probably changes the future of the decision. The, the–If you look at justices’ opinions leading up to Brown, it seemed at best there might be a split in the court, if not a denial, but Warren said, “No, we are going to be active, essentially, and it must be unanimous,” and he basically browbeat the associate justices to line up behind him to offer this ruling. A watershed moment, thus closing the door on the constitutionality of separate but equal, articulated in Plessy v. Ferguson at the end of the nineteenth century.
Now the Supreme Court says that this is unconstitutional, segregation in, in, in education, but how are you going to change it? This is probably one of the most–This may be the most cruel but important part of Brown v. Board of Education, is that it’s remanded back to local districts to figure out the best play–best way to desegregate the schools. South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi governors threaten to abolish public schools as a result. “We’ll just close all the damn public schools,” because the Supreme Court is only talking about public places of accommodation. A year after Brown is articulated, it comes back with what people call Brown II, when the Supreme Court sends these cases back to the local, local–sends the cases back to the courts of origins and in deference to local customs, and familiarity, says that these things should proceed with all deliberate speed. One of these wonderfully vague, damningly vague, Supreme Court edicts. All deliberate speed.
Many people thought, “like really quickly!” Other people thought, “Let’s deliberate for a long time.” Speed, after all, is really quite relative. There are many other immediate ramifications or responses to Brown v. Board and its ruling in 1954 and fifty-five. You–We began the lecture with one of them, with Anna, excuse me, Melba Beals as a young girl about to be raped, because the Supreme Court had enraged this white father, that it was going to change the way the world looked for him. We’ll talk more about other ways of resistance and high political theater and Gothic violence in the wake of Brown v. Board when we pick up on Monday. Thank you.
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