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Supreme Court Opinion in Brown v. Board of Education—Historical Document

A historical document is a report, story, or other paper written in the past. Sometimes historical documents can help us understand why changes occurred in society. The document below is an excerpt of the opinion, or official written decision, in one of the most important Supreme Court cases of the twentieth century.


Primary Source

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Brown v. Board of Education

… Decided May 17, 1954

… MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

… Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship… . In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.

We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does.

… We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Excerpt from the full Supreme Court Opinion in Brown v. Board of Education by Chief Justice Earl Warren.


Background

In the 1950s, segregation was legal, and existed in many schools throughout the country. In 1951, the parents of Linda Brown, an African American third-grader from Topeka, Kansas, went to court to end segregation in Topeka public schools. The case went to the United States Supreme Court. In 1954, all nine Supreme Court justices ruled that separate schools for different races could not possibly be equal, and that therefore the segregation of public schools was illegal.