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

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

by James T. Patterson
     
 

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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."

Overview

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, compelling 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?

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"James T. Patterson's new book is a compelling examination of the history behind the decision and the realities of enforcing it."—Robin Dougherty, The Washington Post

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195127164
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
02/01/1901
Series:
Pivotal Moments in American History Series
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
9.10(w) x 6.10(h) x 1.40(d)

Meet the Author

James T. Patterson won the Bancroft Prize in History for Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974 (OUP, 1996). Author of numerous books concerning modern American life, he is Ford Foundation Professor of History at Brown University.

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