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

Washington, D.C.: A Challenge to Jim Crow in the Nation’s Capital

Segregation in Washington, D.C., was a glaring example of the contradictions in American society. In the 1950s the city’s government, including schools, was under the control of Congress. Its members proudly portrayed the city as the capital of the free world, where democracy and personal freedoms were defended against the threat of communist totalitarianism.

Yet, most of the city’s public facilities, schools, and housing were segregated by law or practice. Sparked by the protests of a local barber, a grassroots organization formed to expose this hypocrisy and demand equal treatment for all children.

Bolling v. Sharpe

Bolling v. Sharpe
Washington, D.C.
Grievance: Black students were segregated in overcrowded schools and denied admission to new, well-equipped schools for whites only.
Plaintiffs: Twelve-year-old Spottswood Bolling and four other students from Washington, D.C.
Decision: A federal districtscourt judge ruled against the plaintiffs, but the U.S. Supreme Court asked to review the case.

Southwest Washington, D.C., looking toward the Capitol, 1939

Southwest Washington, D.C., looking toward the Capitol, 1939

(Courtesy of Library of Congress)
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