Separate Is Not Equal - Brown v. Board of Education

Smithsonian National Museum of American History Behring Center

Segregated America
The Battleground
Legal Campaign
Five Communities Change a Nation
  • Clarendon County, SC
  • Topeka, Kansas
  • Farmville, Virginia
  • New Castle County, DE
  • Washington, DC
The Decision

Bitter Resistance: Clarendon County, South Carolina

On May 28, 1951, Thurgood Marshall, Robert Carter, and Spottswood Robinson brought the case before a three-judge panel at the federal courthouse in Charleston, South Carolina. The defendant was Roderick W. Elliott, a local sawmill owner and the school board chairman.

The lawyers argued that segregated schools harmed black children psychologically and violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. Two of the judges, citing the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896, held that separate-but-equal facilities were constitutional and ruled against the parents.

Judge Waring

Judge Waring

J. Waties Waring, a member of the three-judge panel, wrote the dissenting opinion. He was one of many white southerners who stood up for justice at a time when many of his neighbors clung to old ways. As a supporter of equal rights, he endured both psychological and physical intimidation and eventually moved from Charleston to New York City.
(Courtesy of Moorland-Springarn Research Center)
“ I am of the opinion that all of the legal guideposts, expert testimony, common sense and reason point unerringly to the conclusion that the system of segregation in education adopted and practiced in the state of South Carolina must go and go now. Segregation is per se inequality. ”
—Judge J. Waties Waring, in dissent, Briggs v. Elliott

“ The Negro child is made to go to an inferior school; he is branded in his own mind as inferior...You can teach such a child the Constitution, anthropology and citizenship, but he knows it isn’t true. ”
—Thurgood Marshall, concluding remarks, Briggs v. Elliott
Brief submitted to the Supreme Court

Brief submitted to the Supreme Court

The NAACP lawyers appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court for the October term in 1952. (Courtesy of Supreme Court of the United States)

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