Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954)

In 1951, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) recruited thirteen parents to file a class action suit on behalf of their children. The named plaintiff, Oliver Brown, was the father of a third grader who, denied admission to a neighborhood white school, was forced to walk six blocks to take a bus to a black school. On reviewing the District Court's ruling based on the precedent of Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court decided that segregated public schools were unequal and unconstitutional. This led to the Civil Rights Act of 1957. These words are from the unanimous opinion written by Earl Warren.

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. segregation
    a social system with separate facilities for minority groups
    In each instance, they had been denied admission to schools attended by white children under laws requiring or permitting segregation according to race. This segregation was alleged to deprive the plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment.
  2. doctrine
    a belief accepted as authoritative by some group or school
    In each of the cases other than the Delaware case, a three-judge federal district court denied relief to the plaintiffs on the so-called "separate but equal" doctrine announced by this Court in Plessy v. Ferguson. Under that doctrine, equality of treatment is accorded when the races are provided substantially equal facilities, even though these facilities be separate.
  3. proscribe
    command against
    In the first cases in this Court construing the Fourteenth Amendment, decided shortly after its adoption, the Court interpreted it as proscribing all state-imposed discriminations against the Negro race.
  4. qualification
    an attribute that must be met or complied with
    there are findings below that the Negro and white schools involved have been equalized, or are being equalized, with respect to buildings, curricula, qualifications and salaries of teachers, and other "tangible" factors.
  5. determine
    establish after a calculation, investigation, or experiment
    We must consider public education in the light of its full development and its present place in American life throughout the Nation. Only in this way can it be determined if segregation in public schools deprives these plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws.
  6. function
    the actions and activities assigned to a person or group
    Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments.
  7. compulsory
    required by rule
    Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society.
  8. foundation
    education or instruction in the fundamentals of a field
    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.
  9. principal
    most important element
    Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment.
  10. opportunity
    a possibility from a favorable combination of circumstances
    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.
  11. available
    obtainable or accessible and ready for use or service
    Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.
  12. deprive
    keep from having, keeping, or obtaining
    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?
  13. quality
    an essential and distinguishing attribute of something
    In Sweatt v. Painter, supra, in finding that a segregated law school for Negroes could not provide them equal educational opportunities, this Court relied in large part on "those qualities which are incapable of objective measurement but which make for greatness in a law school."
  14. intangible
    incapable of being perceived by the senses, especially touch
    In McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, supra, the Court, in requiring that a Negro admitted to a white graduate school be treated like all other students, again resorted to intangible considerations: ". . . his ability to study, to engage in discussions and exchange views with other students, and, in general, to learn his profession."
  15. consideration
    information to be kept in mind when making a decision
    Such considerations apply with added force to children in grade and high schools.
  16. inferiority
    the state of being lesser
    To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.
  17. detrimental
    causing harm or injury
    Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children.
  18. impact
    a forceful consequence; a strong effect
    The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group.
  19. motivation
    psychological feature arousing action toward a desired goal
    A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn.
  20. development
    the act of improving by expanding, enlarging, or refining
    Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to retard the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system.
  21. psychological
    mental or emotional as opposed to physical in nature
    Whatever may have been the extent of psychological knowledge at the time of Plessy v. Ferguson, this finding is amply supported by modern authority.
  22. contrary
    in an opposing direction
    Any language in Plessy v. Ferguson contrary to this finding is rejected.
  23. inherently
    in an essential manner
    Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.
  24. guarantee
    make certain of
    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.
  25. denial
    the act of refusing to comply, as with a request
    We have now announced that such segregation is a denial of the equal protection of the laws.

Sign up, it's free!

Whether you're a student, an educator, or a lifelong learner, can put you on the path to systematic vocabulary improvement.