This Day in Black History: May 17, 1954

In the landmark Brown v. Board of Education court case, the United States Supreme Court rules segregation in public schools as unconstitutional. 

Posted: 05/17/2012 07:00 AM EDT

A Black student recites his lesson on May 21, 1954, at the Saint-Dominique school, in Washington, where for the first time in the United States the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which outlaws segregation in state schools, is applied.  (Photo: STAFF/AFP/Getty Images)

 

In the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled segregation in public schools as unconstitutional, citing that the practice of separating school children on the basis of race violated equal rights protections defined by the 14th Amendment. The court’s decision overturned the "separate but equal" precedent set in the Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson case nearly 60 years earlier.

Despite meeting considerable resistance from segregationist groups who argued the court overstepped its constitutional powers by creating new law, the milestone decision helped galvanize civil rights activists into action in the 1950s and ’60s. In May 1955, the Supreme Court instructed all states to begin desegregation plans "with all deliberate speed."

 

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