On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court announced its unanimous decision in the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas case. The Court's declaration that mandatory racial segregation of public schools was a denial of the equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment did not include a prescribed remedy. The Court scheduled arguments for the plan to implement desegregation for the fall of 1954, but the death of Supreme Court justice Robert H. Jackson delayed the argument until April 1955.
At that time, lawyers for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) argued that school districts needed to be put on a firm timetable. The representative for the federal government, Solicitor General Simon Sobeloff suggested that the states be required to desegregate with "deliberate speed." He believed that compliance could be enforced by timetables and procedures implemented by federal district judges in individual communities. Fearing potential violence in the South, the Supreme Court took Sobeloff's advice and provided latitude to individual states to develop desegregation procedures and timetables.
Some areas of the South, most of them with small African American populations, quickly implemented desegregation policies, but many more opposed the mandated change. Individual cases worked their ways slowly through the federal court system. Some southern district judges, either following their own desires, or those of their communities, deliberately slowed the integration process while not blatantly disobeying the Supreme Court's edict. They employed a number of delaying tactics, including rescheduling hearings and overturning decisions.
While the delaying tactics of the judges slowed the integration process, southern politicians, from the local to the national level, provided the most resistance. In 1956 southern members of Congress read a protest into the Congressional Record, decrying the Supreme Court's “clear abuse of judicial power.” Known as the Southern Manifesto, it promised a fight for a reversal of the decision. Virginia senator Harry Flood Byrd circulated the petition and obtained signatures of ninety-six southern congressmen, including all but three of the senators from the South. State legislatures also worked against desegregation, creating a number of laws designed to sidestep the Brown decision. Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, and Virginia all passed laws that required schools to close rather than desegregate. These laws were collectively known as “massive resistance.” Eventually these laws were overturned by United States courts, but they made the desegregation process much more difficult.
This map, printed in the May 1958 issue of Southern School News shows the lack of desegregation in public education during the first four years following the Brown decision. Yellow areas represent desegregated districts, while green areas show the districts that remained segregated.
1. What was the Southern Manifesto?
2. What was Massive Resistance?
1. How would this map look if the Supreme Court had accepted the NAACP's argument in 1955? Explain your argument.
Telgen, Diane. Defining Moments: Brown v. Board of Education. Detroit: Omnigraphics, Inc., 2005.
Daugherity, Brian J., and Charles C. Bolton, eds.With All Deliberate Speed: Implementing Brown v. Board of Education. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press: 2008