Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas Questions and Answers

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What is the relationship between the Civil Rights Movement and Brown vs. Board of Education?

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Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1955) was the first Supreme Court case to most effectively work toward dismantling de jure, or legal segregation in public school systems. This case would also lead to efforts to desegregate lunch counters and other public accommodations throughout the South. 

Brown vs. the Board was not the first attempt of civil rights leaders to address Jim Crow laws. A. Philip Randolph helped to lead efforts to desegregate public transportation. In 1955, the Interstate Commerce Commission ruled that all segregation on interstate buses and trains had to end by January 10, 1956. Some Southern states reluctantly complied, while others tried to circumvent the law by upholding separate waiting rooms for intrastate black passengers.

There was resistance, too, after the Warren...

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In its landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), the U.S. Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. The verdict overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine the Court had established with its decision in the 1896 case Plessy v. Ferguson, which held that racially segregated public facilities were legal, as long as the facilities for blacks and whites were equal.

The Brown v. Board decision did not achieve school desegregation on its own, as attempts to enforce it met with stiff resistance across the Jim Crow South. But the landmark ruling, and outrage over that resistance, fueled the growth of the civil rights movement. A year after the Court’s decision, Rosa Parks’s refusal to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, sparked a bus boycott in that city, led by the young minister Martin Luther King Jr. More boycotts, sit-ins, and other demonstrations followed, as protesters challenged segregation throughout the South. Their efforts helped bring about passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which together helped enforce the process of desegregation that the Supreme Court had begun with its 1954 decision in Brown v. Board.