When the United States Supreme Court declared segregated schools unconstitutional in 1954, newspaper editorials and other written commentary reflected a nation's divided response. This collection of primary source documents captures the range of opinions about the Court's ruling.
Brown Reactions: Judge Brady (full version) (Document)
On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated schools were unconstitutional. The Court's unanimous (9-0) ruling formally overturned the "separate but equal" doctrine established by the Court in 1896. For the NAACP and civil rights advocates, the landmark decision represented a huge victory in the long struggle to end segregation and discrimination. In the South, where state and local laws mandated segregation, the ruling was met with caution and resistance.
In the immediate aftermath of Brown v. Board of Education, newspapers across the country speculated on what the landmark ruling would mean for American society. The Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier and New York's Amsterdam News, with predominantly African American readerships, celebrated the Court's decision while acknowledging that change would not happen overnight. The New York Times heralded the Court's decision, citing the rights of all people under the law granted by the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause. The Chicago Tribune noted the Court's forceful unanimous ruling, but also underscored the fact that the power of enforcement was left to the states. The San Francisco Chronicle considered Brown the beginning of a social revolution that would impact racial equality internationally.
The Brown ruling would have the greatest impact on the segregation laws in southern states. This was the first time the federal government had intervened in public schools, an area traditionally overseen by state governments. While the Supreme Court had the power to interpret the law and declare segregation unconstitutional, the power to enforce the decision fell to state and local authorities. Some governors threatened to close the public schools to avoid integration. In Georgia, even as black teachers and white teachers were being fired for supporting integration, the Atlanta Constitution cautioned any extreme action either to resist or implement the Court's decision. South Carolina's News and Courier accused the Court of infringing on states' rights; Mississippi's Daily News warned of bloodshed and violence in resistance to the ruling; and Tennessee's Chattanooga Times expressed hope that the Court's decision would be implemented calmly and the expectation that people would resist school closings.
In Mississippi, one of the most segregated states in the country, Congressman John Bell Williams dubbed May 17 "Black Monday," and Judge Tom Brady led a movement to resist integration by forming Citizens' Councils. The Citizens' Councils, which eventually spread to other states, were made up of white local leaders and business people who pledged to use their positions to stop anyone who supported racial equality. This meant that banks would deny loans, stores would refuse to sell their goods, and anyone -- black or white -- who supported racial equality would be intimidated by community leaders.
Later that same year, 100 black educators met in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Although the Brown ruling represented significant job losses among black teachers and principals who staffed segregated schools, the group wrote a statement endorsing the Court's ruling, pressing for immediate implementation, and calling for increased federal spending on education.
In August 1955, Zora Neale Hurston, the most accomplished female African American writer in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s, shocked the black community by expressing her dissent to the Brown decision in a letter to the editor of the Orlando Sentinel. Hurston, who was frequently criticized for her controversial views on race relations and politics, represented the sentiment among some African Americans who preferred to focus on equalizing schools rather than forcing black students to go to white schools amid violent resistance.
Academic standards correlations on Teachers' Domain use the Achievement Standards Network (ASN) database of state and national standards, provided to NSDL projects courtesy of JES & Co.
We assign reference terms to each statement within a standards document and to each media resource, and correlations are based upon matches of these terms for a given grade band. If a particular standards document of interest to you is not displayed yet, it most likely has not yet been processed by ASN or by Teachers' Domain. We will be adding social studies and arts correlations over the coming year, and also will be increasing the specificity of alignment.