Today’s blog is introduced and compiled by Dr. Tina Ligon, with the assistance of fellow archivists, specialists, and technicians at the National Archives.
May 17, 2014 marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision regarding education in America. The Oliver L. Brown et. al. v. Board of Education of Topeka (KS) ruling declared public schools that were separated by race as unconstitutional. The unanimous decision stated that segregated schools violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The ruling meant that African-American children had a right to attend schools that were properly equipped with well-trained teachers and staff. This decision was celebrated by many who believed that black children received an inadequate education in the racially segregated schools and was condemned by those who wanted to keep the races separated.
The Brown v. Board of Education case was made up of five similar lawsuits from around the country. The first case was Briggs v. Elliot (1949), which challenged segregated schools in Summerton, South Carolina. The three judge panel granted an injunction to make the inferior black schools equal to the white schools. The Boiling v. Sharpe (1950) case dealt with segregated schools in Washington, D. C. It held that segregated schools in the nation’s capital violated the due process of the law under the Fifth Amendment. Initiated by student protests, the Davis v. Board of Education of Prince Edward County (1951) challenged the ill-equipped black schools in Virginia. Similar to the Briggs v. Elliot case, the Virginia courts ruled that the facilities at the segregated black schools should be equalized to the white schools. The last case, which carries the landmark name, was the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1951). Black parents argued against the poor conditions and the locations of the segregated black schools. The local courts maintained that black and white schools in the state were equal on the basis of buildings, transportation, and curriculums. Finally, the state of Delaware was ordered by the ruling in Gebhart v. Belton (1952) to admit black students into the white only schools. All five of these cases were grouped together and argued before the US Supreme Court in 1954. The court’s decision mandated desegregation of public schools across the country.
The National Archives holds many records relating to the Brown v. Board of Education case and the other four cases that made up this historic lawsuit. Related records ranged from court documents, photographs, online study-guides, and information papers. This blog is an overview of the types of federally created records relating to the Brown v. Board decision. To learn more about additional records, visit the Online Public Access catalog.
In 2004, Walter B. Hill, Jr. and Trichita M. Chestnut complied Research Information Paper (RIP) 112 Federal Records Pertaining to Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954). The records described in this RIP are from the executive and judicial branches of the Federal Government. It identifies most of the records held at the National Archives that relate to the Brown v. Board decision.
The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library located in Abilene, Kansas holds many of the records made in the District Court condemning the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas as well as the segregated school system as a whole. The Civil Rights collection relating to this case has letters, memoranda, and court orders from southern governors and friends of Eisenhower expressing their concern over integrated schools. Several of these documents are available online through the Eisenhower Presidential Library website.
The main NARA website has a section dedicated to teaching the Brown v. Board of Education case. This teacher’s resource gives background information on the case, as well as documents related to the lawsuit, which includes the dissenting opinion of Judge Waites Waring in the Briggs v. Elliott case (NAID 279306), a letter from President Dwight D. Eisenhower to E. E. “Swede” Hazlett (NAID 186601), and the judgment of the case (NAID 301669). The Teaching with Documents pages also provides users with a timeline, teaching activities, and biographies of key figures.