In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated schools were unconstitutional. However, the Court did not specify how the ruling would be implemented. A year later, the Court issued a second ruling, known as Brown II, which declared that school districts should act "with all deliberate speed". The Court's opinion, which didn't specify a time frame, reflected the tension between those who insisted on immediate integration and those who opposed it.
In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment and denied black students equal protection of the laws. The significance of the Court's decision was unprecedented in that it overturned a previous Supreme Court ruling and, in so doing, outlawed the way many schools operated at the time. 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.
On one side of the debate were civil rights advocates like Thurgood Marshall, who believed that equal education was long overdue and who wanted immediate integration. On the opposite side were segregationists determined to prevent it. In the middle were "gradualists," Supreme Court justices among them, who believed that people needed time to get used to the idea, and that school districts needed time to make adjustments. The gradualists also believed that it was dangerous to move too far too fast.
Across the country, particularly in the South, where segregated schools were legally mandated, school districts and local officials ignored the Court's ruling, creating an impasse for integration. It was left to parents to sue their local school boards in order to force the integration of schools.
In 1955, in what became known as Brown II, the Supreme Court ruled that schools must act "with all deliberate speed" to desegregate. However, the ruling did not specify a time frame. Civil rights advocates saw the wording of the Court's opinion as ambiguous, and considered the ruling a setback. In fact, segregationists who opposed the Brown ruling had no deadline. Without the power of enforcement, the ruling had limited impact. President Dwight D. Eisenhower respected the Court's authority but was reluctant to get involved. The infamous phrase, "with all deliberate speed," was left open to interpretation, leading to various strategies of white resistance to the Brown decisions and, ultimately, a very slow and uneven process of school desegregation.
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