Brown v. Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy

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2004 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Supreme Court's unanimous decision to end segregation in public schools. Many people were elated when Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in May 1954, the ruling that struck down state-sponsored racial segregation in America's public schools. Thurgood Marshall, chief attorney for the black families that launched the litigation, exclaimed later, "I was so happy, I was numb." The novelist Ralph Ellison wrote, "another battle of the Civil War has been won. The rest is up to us and I'm very glad. What a wonderful world of possibilities are unfolded for the children!"

Here, in a concise, moving narrative, Bancroft Prize-winning historian James T. Patterson takes readers through the dramatic case and its fifty-year aftermath. A wide range of characters animates the story, from the little-known African Americans who dared to challenge Jim Crow with lawsuits (at great personal cost); to Thurgood Marshall, who later became a Justice himself; to Earl Warren, who shepherded a fractured Court to a unanimous decision. Others include segregationist politicians like Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas; Presidents Eisenhower, Johnson, and Nixon; and controversial Supreme Court justices such as William Rehnquist and Clarence Thomas.

Most Americans still see Brown as a triumph—but was it? Patterson shrewdly explores the provocative questions that still swirl around the case. Could the Court—or President Eisenhower—have done more to ensure compliance with Brown? Did the decision touch off the modern civil rights movement? How useful are court-ordered busing and affirmative action against racial segregation? To what extent has racial mixing affected the academic achievement of black children? Where indeed do we go from here to realize the expectations of Marshall, Ellison, and others in 1954?

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Patterson's new book is a compelling examination of the history behind the decision and the realities of enforcing it."—Robin Dougherty, The Boston Globe

"Absorbing book. With admirable balance, Patterson synthesizes much of the debate. His streamlined rendition reminds us that justices have always considered the social, political, and legal consequences of their decisions."—Laura Kalman, The New York Times Book Review

"Penetrating history-cum-analysis."—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World

Laura Kalman
With admirable balance, Patterson synthesizes much of the debate in Brown v. Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy. In this season of overwrought doubts about the court's legitimacy, his streamlined rendition reminds us that justices have always considered the social, political and legal consequences of their decisions.
New York Times Book Review
Library Journal
Patterson (history, Brown Univ., Grand Expectations) is eminently qualified to lead us through the saga of the Civil Rights movement as it relates to public education. The U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1954 decision overturned a way of thinking that had persisted largely unchallenged since the end of the Civil War. A commonly accepted legal theory supported by an 1896 Supreme Court decision (Plessy v. Ferguson) was based, the author notes, upon archaic psychological theories that had been superseded by modern theory supporting a linkage between racial segregation and concomitant feelings of inferiority and damage to motivation and, hence, to learning. The author devotes the rest of the book to the tedious and thorny issues of implementation that he believes were needlessly protracted because the Court, in an effort to achieve unanimity and, feeling the need to placate the Southern states by abstaining from inflammatory rhetoric or threat of force, laid down only broad guidelines. The result, notes the author, is a process that has lately actually fluctuated back in the direction of permitting re-segregation in neighborhood schools where demographic changes resulting from private choice rather than public policy have produced a different racial mix. The issues are complex, profound, and ongoing, but the author provides balanced and extensive coverage. Recommended for academic and law libraries.--Philip Y. Blue, New York State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Law Lib., New York Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195156324
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 10/1/2002
  • Series: Pivotal Moments in American History Series
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 629,440
  • Product dimensions: 9.20 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

James T. Patterson won the Bancroft Prize in History for Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974. He is the author of numerous books concerning modern American life, he is Ford Foundation Professor of History at Brown University.

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Table of Contents

Editors' Note xi
Preface: Contesting the Color Line xiii
1 Race and the Schools Before Brown 1
2 The Grass Roots and Struggling Lawyers 21
3 The Court Decides 46
4 Crossroads, 1954-55 70
5 Southern Whites Fight Back 86
6 Striving for Racial Balance in the 1960s 118
7 The Burger Court Surprises 147
8 Stalemates 170
9 Resegregation? 191
10 Legacies and Lessons 206
Appendix I Key Cases 225
Appendix II Tables and Figures 227
Notes 237
Bibliographical Essay 263
Acknowledgments 269
Index 271
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