Separate Is Not Equal - Brown v. Board of Education

Smithsonian National Museum of American History Behring Center

Segregated America
  • Promise of Freedom
  • White Only
  • Separate but Equal
  • The Supreme Court
The Battleground
Legal Campaign
Five Communities Change a Nation
The Decision
Slave Tag

The Promise of Freedom

For formerly enslaved people, freedom meant an end to the whip, to the sale of family members, and to white masters. The promise of freedom held out the hope of self-determination, educational opportunities, and full rights of citizenship.

Recruitment handbill

Recruitment handbill

In this Civil War handbill for black recruits, African American soldiers are shown liberating slaves and bringing new hope for a good education and a productive way of life.
“ Now we are free. What do we want? We want education; we want protection; we want plenty of work; we want good pay for it, but not any more or less than any one else...and then you will see the down-trodden race rise up. ”
—John Adams, a former slave

Abolishment artifacts
The Reconstruction Amendments were intended to extend the rights of citizenship to African Americans. The Thirteenth Amendment (1865) abolished slavery; the Fourteenth Amendment (1868) extended “equal protection of the laws” to all citizens; and the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) guaranteed that the right to vote could not be denied “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
First vote

First vote

The only way to guarantee freedom for formerly enslaved African Americans was to grant them the full privileges and responsibilities of citizenship. The right to vote became the critical step in protecting their civil liberties. It would also be the first of their freedoms taken away.

“ Slavery is not abolished until the black man has the ballot. ”
—Frederick Douglass, 1865
First black members of Congress

First black members of Congress

For much of the Reconstruction era, from 1869 to 1877, the federal government assumed political control of the former states of the Confederacy. Voters in the South elected more than 600 African American state legislators and 16 members of Congress. Black and white citizens established several progressive state governments that attempted to extend educational opportunities and civil and political rights to everyone.
Ballot box

Ballot box, 19th century

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