Why Did The Supreme Court Decide To Overturn Plessy V. Ferguson, As Explained In Brown V. Board Of Education?

Why did the Supreme Court reverse its ruling in PLESSY v. FERGUSON? In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that racial segregation did not violate the 14th Amendment.  In 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education, it reversed trend.  My  question is, why?  What made the Justices reverse a half-century-old precedent?

One reason I can come up with is the ideologiucal hyprocisy of fighting fascism half a world away while suppressing our own people at home.  African-Americans played an instrumental role in WWII (the Tuskegee Airmen, for example), so it was particularly wrong for them to find injustice half a world away and to come back home to see more of it.  Maybe that's why, or maybe that's at least PART of the reason.  Let me know if you can come up with another, or better, one.  Thanks a lot.

Expert Answers
dbello eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The 1954 landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. The Board of Education Topeka Kansas was one of five segregation cases brought to the high court. The Brown case was chosen as namesake because the state of Kansas was less volitale than the four southern state counterparts. The Plessy decision sanctioned the 'separate but equal' doctrine in which southern state segregation ordinances were enforced. The power and recognition of the NAACP had grown significantly since its inception. By the late 1930's the organization focused on the foundations of segregation in smaller lawsuits as the way to dismantle segregation from within rather than addressing the Plessy case head on. In 1939 Missouri v. ex.rel. Gaines the high ruled that African Americans be admitted to the law school or build another equal facility. In 1950 McLaurin v. Oaklahoma State Regents the court ruled that the school segregation policy created a 'badge of inferiority' These early cases set the stage for Thurgood Marshall's attack on the 'separate but equal' doctrine beginning in 1951. Thurgood utilized the precedents set in prior cases but went further arguing that the act of separating Americans from Americans had sociological and psychological ramifications that would ultimately be destructive to the fabric of the essence of America. Thurgood cited studies from both of these ares both of which were gaining popularity in mental health science. The Plessy decision was overturned because in the words of Chief Justice Earl Warren, 'Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race deprive the minority group of equal educational opportunities?...We believe that it does...

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I liked the analysis featured.  Certainly, the historical precedence of fighting for rights abroad and not being able to guarantee them domestically motivated the justices to hear the case and rule in favor of Brown and for racial integration.  I would also suggest that Chief Justice Earl Warren was a proponent of individual rights and racial equality, both present in the case.  One has to figure that Justice Warren's propensity for social justice and seeing the court as a tool in the process of delivering it held a very significant role in overturning Plessy v. Ferguson.  At the same time, one could see how judicial activism could transform the role of the court when the legislative and political process is mired in protecting interests that do not serve the general good.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Okay, you're definitely right about WWII playing a part in it.  Here are a couple of other factors:

  1. The Cold War -- similar to WWII.  We had to show the people in the Third World that we did not treat black people that badly.  Otherwise, they would not like us and they would go on the side of the communists.
  2. Precedents from before Brown -- things like McLaurin v. Oklahoma and Sweatt v. Painter that made a legal foundation for desegregation.
  3. Growing political importance of black people.  As they moved North to where they could vote, politicians started to care about them some.
  4. Just the passage of time and changing attitudes among white elites in the North.  The Justics would have been from this class, mostly.
nerdinstudio | Student

This is me again; if you're answering this question, please read the following first....

1. I meant to say, "fight injustice half a world away...."

2. Sorry about misspelling "ideological."

to those who are answering this inquiry, thanks again for your time and your input.