This collection of primary sources documents how the Fourteenth Amendment has been interpreted and enforced over time with respect to school desegregation. It includes excerpts from the Fourteenth Amendment, Plessy v. Ferguson, Gong Lum v. Rice, Mendez v. Westminster, Brown v. Board of Education, Brown II, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
After the Civil War, Reconstruction legislation promised all citizens, including African Americans, equal rights under the law. The Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, granted citizenship rights to newly freed slaves and guaranteed equal protection under the law for all citizens. The Reconstruction era witnessed a surge in male voter registration, school enrollment, and employment among African Americans, but it also galvanized resistance among white southerners.
The Compromise of 1877 effectively ended Reconstruction. During the 1880s and 1890s, southern states, where 90 percent of African Americans lived, enacted laws and passed segregation ordinances designed to dismantle Reconstruction and restore white supremacy and control. Without the power of federal enforcement in many states, the Fourteenth Amendment had limited impact.
In 1892, a biracial man named Homer Plessy tested one such ordinance and was arrested for trying to sit in a "whites only" train car. Plessy used the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as the basis for a lawsuit, arguing that his equal rights under the law had been violated. In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that as long as they were equal, separate facilities did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. This reasoning became known as the "separate but equal" doctrine, and segregation became sanctioned by law. The Fourteenth Amendment now had little effect, and with the rise of white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, segregation and discrimination were often enforced with violence and intimidation.
In 1927, a Chinese American father, Gong Lum, sued the Rosedale, Mississippi school board when his daughter was denied admission to the local white school. In Gong Lum v. Rice, the Supreme Court ruled that since Martha Lum could not be classified as white, she could not attend the all-white public school.
During the 1930s, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) embarked on a strategy to use the Fourteenth Amendment to challenge segregation and discrimination in state-supported graduate and professional schools, and by the end of World War II, won several legal victories. Then in 1946, a group of Mexican Americans from California, citing the Fourteenth Amendment, won a class action lawsuit to desegregate the Los Angeles public schools. In this case, Mendez v. Westminster, the judge ruled against the "separate but equal" doctrine and argued that separate schools are inherently unequal. This encouraged the NAACP to challenge the concept of "separate but equal" in public schools in southern and border states, including the District of Columbia.
In 1952, the NAACP combined five of these cases to form Brown v. Board of Education, and in 1954, the Supreme Court's landmark ruling declared segregated schools unconstitutional. Brown is considered the most important civil rights case in American history, but even with a unanimous Supreme Court, the nation remained divided. Without the power of enforcement, the Court's ruling had limited impact.
Many southern states ignored the ruling and accused the judiciary of infringing on states' rights. It was up to parents to sue their local school board in order to force the integration of schools. In 1955, the Court ruled in Brown II that school districts must act to desegregate "with all deliberate speed," but gave no time frame.
The acceleration of the Civil Rights movement from 1955-1963 prompted President John F. Kennedy to draft new federal civil rights legislation. After his assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson pushed the bill's passage through both houses of Congress. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 enforced civil rights by denying federal funds to any agency that discriminated on the basis of race, color, or national origin. It also empowered the Justice Department to enforce desegregation.
From the mid-seventies onward, changes in the Supreme Court and presidential administrations led to decreased federal commitment and enforcement of school desegregation. This was coupled with continuing patterns of residential segregation and with white flight from the public schools in integrated areas.
While scholars and legal historians still dispute the overall impact of Brown, the majority of African Americans and other nonwhite minorities attend predominantly minority schools. Fifty years after the Brown ruling, local jurisdictions are still struggling with how best to offer equal educational opportunity for all schoolchildren.
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.