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Brown v. Board

Charles County, Maryland. Upper-grade pupils in the Waldorf Negro elementary school are ready to answer the teacher's questions. 52 pupils are enrolled in this one-room school. 12 were absent the day picture was taken.
Charles County, Maryland. Upper-grade pupils in the Waldorf Negro elementary school are ready to answer the teacher's questions. 52 pupils are enrolled in this one-room school. 12 were absent the day picture was taken.

Brown v. Board

Brown v. Topeka Board of Education was not a southern case — it was a midwestern case.

In the 1800s, the Midwest states had no common pattern regarding school integration.

Iowa was the very first state in America to rule school segregation unconstitutional, under the state Supreme Court’s 1869 decision, Clark v. Muscatine Board of Trustees.  Ohio, the first midwestern state to enter the Union, outlawed segregation in 1887.  

Missouri, the only Midwest state in which slavery had been legal, several counties refused to integrate their schools until the 1970s.

Kansas law provided for integrated schools following the Civil War.  In 1877, however, at the start of the “Exodus” movement of African Americans moving to the Great Plains, the law was changed giving cities the authority to racially segregate elementary schools.

Topeka segregated elementary schools through the 1950s.  At that time, Linda Brown, a Topeka schoolgirl, was barred from attending her neighborhood school, and she was forced to travel by bus to another neighborhood to attend the more poorly-resourced Monroe Elementary School.  

Brown’s parents filed suit, arguing the segregated school provided an unequal education and violated her constitutional rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed:

“We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal; segregation in public education is a denial of the equal protection of the laws.”

Brown’s importance was underscored by the vote by the Supreme Court Justices: 9-0.  

After Brown, Kansas schools quickly integrated. The decision’s impact also went far beyond the Midwest, leading to the landmark — and iconic — school desegregation in, Arkansas (with the “Little Rock 9”), the University of Alabama, and the integration of New Orleans’ grade schools by six-year-old Ruby Bridges.  

Brown v. Board’s impact also extended far beyond education, with the decision signaling a new era of court enforcement of equal rights and energizing the broader Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.  

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