Separate Is Not Equal - Brown v. Board of Education

Smithsonian National Museum of American History Behring Center



header
Segregated America
The Battleground
Legal Campaign
Five Communities Change a Nation
The Decision
  • Defenders of Segregation
  • Segregationists’ Argument
  • Challengers of Segregation
  • Integrationists’ Argument
  • Reaching a Decision
  • Court’s Decision
  • Timeline
Legacy
Supreme Court Decision Timeline

June 8, 1953

By the end of the Court’s term, it becomes clear that the justices are divided over a decision. To break the deadlock, Justice Felix Frankfurter persuades the justices that they should ask both sides to prepare responses to a series of questions and to present their answers during the 1953 session. The questions focus on the intent of the Fourteenth Amendment and the protection of citizenship rights as they relate to the abolition of segregated public schools.
Justice Felix Frankfurter, 1956

Justice Felix Frankfurter, 1956

(Courtesy of Supreme Court of the United States)

Original copies of the questions sent out by the Supreme Court

Original copies of the questions sent out by the Supreme Court

(Lent by National Archives, Washington, D.C.)

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June 9, 1953

NAACP director Walter White and Thurgood Marshall send out an emergency telegram to potential contributors that they are out of money to continue the fight. “United States Supreme Court today deferred judgment on five historic cases challenging racial segregation in elementary and high schools...Highest Court now requests preparation of answers within three months to many questions requiring legal argument on historic constitutional factors, sociological data and authoritative opinion...$15,000 needed immediately to forestall possibility these youngsters must wait decades before equal opportunity established.”
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June to October 1953

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund organizes a massive nationwide research project of historians and legal scholars to answer the Court’s questions. Marshall chooses John A. Davis, a professor of political science at Lincoln University, to lead the task force. The NAACP enlists more than 200 scholars, including John Hope Franklin, C. Vann Woodward, William Robert Ming Jr., Alfred Kelly, and Horace Mann Bond.

With Marshall’s direction and encouragement, the academics and the legal team draft an argument that the Fourteenth Amendment was unquestionably intended to prohibit all forms of state-imposed racial discrimination.

John A. Davis

John A. Davis

(Courtesy of Library of Congress)

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September 8, 1953

Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson dies from a massive heart attack at the age of 63. His death places great uncertainty on the case’s outcome.
Chief Justice Fred Vinson at his desk, 1949

Chief Justice Fred Vinson at his desk, 1949

(Courtesy of Supreme Court of the United States)

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October 5, 1953

President Dwight Eisenhower appoints Earl Warren, the Republican governor of California, to succeed Vinson as chief justice of the Supreme Court. With Congress not in session, Warren assumed the post pending confirmation.
Time magazine cover

Time magazine

Earl Warren was one of the most popular politicians in California history. In his last two elections for governor, he was nominated by both the Republican and Democratic parties.

Warren’s civil rights record was mixed. As governor, he pushed to repeal the state’s school segregation laws. At the Republican presidential convention in 1952, he urged the party to adopt a stronger civil rights position. But during World War II, he had been among the state’s leading supporters of the internment of Japanese Americans.


Chief Justice Earl Warren’s oath of office, briefcase, and signature Homburg hat

Chief Justice Earl Warren’s oath of office, briefcase, and signature Homburg hat

(Lent by Supreme Court of the United States)
Cartoon

Cartoon

Earl Warren climbs the steps of the Supreme Court in this cartoon.
(Lent by Supreme Court of the United States)

Warren court

Warren court

The Supreme Court with Earl Warren presiding as chief justice, October 9, 1954
(Lent by Supreme Court of the United States)

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December 7, 1953

The Brown cases are back in session, with Chief Justice Warren presiding, to hear the responses of both sides to the questions the Court issued in June.
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