The U.S. Supreme Court handed down two critical decisions regarding civil rights in education on June 5, 1950.
In McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, the court ruled that a public institution of higher learning could not treat a student differently because of race. The case arose after a Black masters student at the University of Oklahoma sued when the university forced him to eat at a special “negro” table at lunch and provided special “negro” seating to him in the classroom and the library. The court said such measures are a violation of the student’s Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights.
On the same day, the court decided Sweatt v. Painter, which challenged the “separate but equal” clarion call of segregation and proved to be an influential contributor to the victory in the Brown v. Board of Education school segregation case. A Black man in Texas was denied admission to the University of Texas law school because of a state law prohibiting Blacks from enrolling. To further prevent his admission to the all-white school, the state set up a parallel Black law school, which was staffed with less faculty and provided less resources — ultimately rendering the education provided unequal to its all-white counterpart. The court ultimately decided that the Black applicant must be admitted given that the quality of education at the separate school was unequal.
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(Photo: Courtesy Library of Congress)