The 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

I will take a break from my series of blog posts about how life imitates art to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.

On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court, under the leadership of Earl Warren, handed down its decision declaring segregation in schools illegal.

Brown v. Board of Education was one of those rare Supreme Court cases which entirely changed the fabric of life in the United States. While it took several decades for schools all across the country to be integrated, the handing down of the decision had immediate and very radical effects. When the Court said segregation in schools was unconstitutional on the grounds that “separate can never be equal” — that segregating black and white children tells the black children they are inferior — people caught the drift. If segregation was unconstitutional in schools, what about buses? What about lunch counters and drinking fountains?

Shortly after the decision in Brown v. Board of Education was handed down, Rose Parks stepped on the world stage, and the Montgomery Bus Strike got underway.

What I’d like to do, on this 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, is suggest a few books anyone interested in civil rights in America should read.

Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality, by Richard Kluger purports to be a history of Brown v. Board of Education. In fact, it is a stunning and remarkable complete history of blacks in America. I came away from this book with a new understanding of American history. What I understood was that we began fighting the Civil War at the time the Constitution was drafted, and the issue of equality for blacks was not resolved until well into the twentieth century.

To truly understand the miracle of Brown v. Board of Education requires a look at the enigmatic and fascinating chief justice responsible for the decision. While there are lots of biographies out there, Justice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made, by Jim Newton, is one of the most recent and comprehensive. In the words of one reviewer, “Earl Warren was the most important politician of the twentieth century not to achieve the presidency.”

Of course, it’s impossible for me to talk about books about Brown v. Board of Education without at least mentioning the fact that Barbara Rose Johns, 16 years old in 1951, played a much more important role in the civil rights movement than she has been given credit for.

Next week I’ll go back to thinking about life imitating art . . .

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