What was the significance of the Brown v Board of Education case?
The landmark decision of the US Supreme Court in Brown v Board of Education (1954) was significant in that it ruled school segregation unconstitutional. Prior to this ruling, schools throughout the United States had been segregated along the lines of race. Civil rights campaigners had long campaigned against segregation in all walks of life, as they believed that it effectively turned racial minorities into second-class citizens.
Yet the Supreme Court had consistently proved reluctant to rule desegregation unconstitutional. In the notorious case of Plessy v Ferguson (1896), the Court ruled that facilities segregated on the basis of race were constitutional so long as they were "separate but equal." In reality, however, such facilities were profoundly unequal and served to keep African Americans in a position of subordination.
In Brown, the Supreme Court overturned its previous ruling in Plessy. In doing so, it recognized the implausibility of the "separate but equal" doctrine as well as the key role that segregated facilities played in reinforcing racial inequality. Although change was slow in coming, the Court's ruling in Brown represented a huge victory for the NAACP and made a crucial first step in the long, hard struggle for civil rights.
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