Monday, March 12, 2012

Landmark Cases Affecting Jim Crow Laws in American Education

Jim Crow laws in education declined when Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Photo: Supreme Court Building Night Shot
Key Supreme Court Cases for Civil Rights

In American education over the centuries, the U.S. Supreme Court taketh away, giveth and taketh away again.

Elementary and primary schools, vocational training, college, post-graduate studies, graduate degrees and professional schools leading to doctorates, masters, MBAs, medical and law degrees are programs that conceptually provide equal access. However, receiving a college education is only part of the challenge.

Movie and theater producers, directors, actors, filmmakers and documentary historians, broadcast news media and the Internet have covered race relations in America from the beginning of these technologies. The racist propaganda film, The Birth of a Nation in 1915 was produced using the technology of its day. Later, traditional networks and 24-hour cable newscasts are documenting Jim Crow laws, racial discrimination, the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement and modern racial tensions across the nation in recent cases. Where ever the coverage of race relations begins, it usually ends up in a classroom, wither being studied or lived by teachers and students.

The Birth of a Nation, based on an anti-African American play, The Clansman,” was scripted and directed by G.W. Griffith, tracing the Civil War, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Although the film was denounced as racist by many Americans at the time, the movie, which grossed more than $10 million and set a new standard of storytelling on film, was applauded by many other Americans at the time of its release, including the sitting president in 1915 Woodrow Wilson.

Photo: College Graduates
Paying for College Without Going Broke

Against this mixed backdrop of American attitudes immediately following the Civil War and Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws were cemented into American society through separate but equal after Plessy v Ferguson in 1896. Plessy dealt with public rail transportation but like other Jim Crow laws ended up affecting public education and all other American life.

People who wanted vocational training as nurses went to separate training facilities and were only hired after graduation by separate medical facilities and hospitals. In other words, black doctors and nurses could only treat black patients and deliver black babies, the same way black bodies could only be prepared for burial by black undertakers and then buried in black cemeteries. That's how separate life in the United States was under Jim Crow laws--from birth to death, people were separated by race.

Good employment within those separte bounds could only be obtained by those allowed to even apply for certain positions. Education was the key to changing American society's view of race. However, getting into competitive colleges required getting the foundation in early education. The U.S. Supreme Court made landmark decisions regarding racial segregation and race relations in the 1896 Plessy v Ferguson, in the 1954 Brown v the Board of Education, and in the 1974 Milliken v Bradley

The cases mentioned above were not related in substance, but all three cases had a great deal to do, ultimately, with education, which affords a U.S. citizen advantages in attaining a good life. A good life means the ability to acquire necessities, such as food, home ownership, clothing, transportation, insurance, college education and other things that make life possible and pleasant. Through the preparation for competitive employment and salaries, education, and particularly college, held the key to having resources to purchase homes, shop in department stores for apparel and appliances, get medical treatment, take enjoy movies, sporting events and recreation, go on vacations, and take advantage of other privileges of being Americans.

in 1896, Plessy set forth a legal system, separate but equal, by sanctioning the legal segregation of the races in all aspects of public and private life through Jim Crow laws, as long as accommodations were equal. The problem with Jim Crow laws was evident in unequal accommodations and treatment, and opened the door for extreme discrimination on the basis of race and/or color. The Plessy case had its basis in a Louisiana lawsuit brought against railroad transportation by a nearly-white black man, Homer Plessy, who was chosen to participate in the case by a local civil rights organization because his complexion would not be a factor.

Photo: Homer Plessy (Plessy v Ferguson 1896)
Homer Plessy
It was thought that a nearly white man may have a better chance in winning a challenge against racial segregation because white society treated nearly-white African Americans better than it treated dark-skinned people, judging people proportionately better, the lighter their skin. Although nearly-white people were looked down upon by white people, lighter-skinned black people were allowed a measure of societal privilege.

However, the Supreme Court decided that segregation is "universally recognized as within the competency of states in the exercise of their police powers." This decision left matters of segregation to the discretion of individual states. Officially, Jim Crow laws were born. It took many years of legal, social and political protest from Dr. Martin Luther King's dream to Rosa Parks defying Jim Crow laws in the Montgomery Bus Boycott to destroy Jim Crow laws in the United States. 

Photo: Brown v the Board of Education: Linda Brown
Linda Brown, 9

In 1954, Plessy was struck down by Brown v the Board of Education, named for Linda Brown of Topeka, Kansas. In his first major Supreme Court opinion Chief Justice Earl Warren said, "We conclude, unanimously, that in the field of public education the doctrine of separate but equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."

Even as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King were protesting during Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955-56, desegregation of schools under Brown was already being challenged and gains in school desegregation were slowed and stalled by crafty politicians seeking to satisfy voters and financial supporters. In 1974 Milliken v Bradley in Detroit and other cases precipitated a gradual reversal of the strikes against Jim Crow laws as the nation's conservative silent majority became less silent, pushing back on laws that caused their children to be bused out of safe neighborhoods to inferior schools in undesirable communities across school district lines in an effort for the federal government to achieve racial balance in public schools.

The Detroit School Busing Case by Joyce Baugh
The Detroit School Busing 
Case By Baugh, Joyce A. 
(Google Affiliate Ad)
For many the promise of Brown had vanished by 1974 with Milliken v. Bradley. In The Detroit School Busing Case: Milliken v. Bradley and the Controversy over Desegregation (Landmark Law Cases and American Society), author Joyce Baugh offers the only book-length analytical study of the Milliken case, in which Detroit, Michigan, became the first major desegregation case to originate outside of the South. Michigan Governor William Milliken  was sued for overturning a plan to bus white students to black schools across district lines. The outcome of the case was considered a serious setback for school desegregation.

U.S. race relations, family income, schools attended, and neighborhoods where families can afford to live are factors in modernized Jim Crow laws, education and social systems. I just finished reading a book that everyone in America needs to read: Jim Crow's Children: The Broken Promise of the Brown Decision by Peter H. Irons. When I discovered this book, I was intrigued to find in one place the history of American education, traced along the color line. Irons surveys historical documents and court cases, and interviews participants in the desegregation and re-segregation of America's public schools.

Peter Irons, Author of Jim Crow's Children
Peter Irons
By 1974, 20 years after Brown had been decided in 1954, Boston, Massachusetts, was in violent response to public school integration using busing mandates to desegregate public schools. Irons wrote: 

Jim Crow's Children: The Broken Promise of the Brown Decision by Peter Irons
Jim Crow's Children:
 The Broken Promise
of the Brown Decision

 Jim Crow's Children:
 The Broken Promise
of the Brown Decision

Jim Crow's Children: The Broken Promise of the Brown Decision explains how, in 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court sounded the death knell for school segregation with its decision in Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, or ssuch as Thurgood Marshall and Earl Warren, sketches of numerous black children throughout history whose parents joined lawsuits against Jim Crow schools, and gripping courtroom drama scenes, Irons shows how the erosion of the Brown decision...

From Publishers Weekly: Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision that mandated the desegregation of U.S. schools, is popularly seen as a hallmark of American justice. But Irons, professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, surveys recent U.S. history to reveal a quite different picture: many states have found ways to delay implementation of, or totally evade, the ruling. Further, in response to the often violent battles around school busing and a clear rise of conservatism in the country, Irons argues that in 1991 the court began "judicial burial" of Brown by setting precedents that continued to allow segregated schools."

Kindle Fire, Full Color 7" Multi-touch Display, Wi-Fi
Many of these books above are now available on Kindle and the new Kindle Fire, Full Color 7" Multi-touch Display, Wi-Fi, which also offers more than a million digital books, movies, TV shows, songs, magazines, news, apps, games, and more.

Enjoy the Kindle Fire's vibrant color, touch-screen with extra-wide viewing angle, ultra-fast web browsing, powerful dual-core processor, free cloud storage for your content and an array of useful and attractive accessories like the Kindle Fire Leather Cover by Marware. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

 by Sunny Nash

African American National Biography, Harvard and Oxford
African American
 National Biography
Harvard & Oxford

Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's by Sunny Nash
Bigmama Didn't Shop
At Woolworth's
by Sunny Nash
Bigmama Didn't Shop At Woolworth's (Texas A&M University Press) by Sunny Nash was chosen by the  Association of American University Presses as one of its essential books for understanding race relations in the United States, and also listed in the Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies by the Schomburg Center in New York and recommended for Native American collections by the Miami-Dade Public Library System in Florida.

Nash--author, producer, photographer and leading writer on U.S. race relations in--writes books, blogs, articles and reviews, and produces media and images on U.S. history and contemporary American topics, ranging from Jim Crow laws to social media networking, Nash uses her book to write articles and blogs on race relations in America through topics relating to her life--from music, film, early radio and television, entertainment, social media, Internet technology, publishing, journalism, sports, education, employment, the military, fashion, performing arts, literature, women's issues, adolescence and childhood, equal rights, social and political movements--past and present—to today's post-racism.

Sunny Nash has work in the African American National Biography, a joint project by Harvard and Oxford, edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham; African American West, a Century of Short Stories; Reflections in Black, a History of Black Photographers 1840 - Present; Ancestry; Companion to Southern Literature; Texas Through Women’s Eyes; Black Genesis: A Resource Book for African-American Genealogy; African American Foodways L; Southwestern American Literature Journal and other anthologies. Nash is listed in references: The Source: guidebook to American genealogy; Bibliographic Guide to Black Studies; Interdisciplinary Journal for Germanic Linguistics; Ebony Magazine; Southern Exposure; Hidden Sources: Family History in Unlikely Places; and others.

© 2012 Sunny Nash. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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