Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
349 U.S. 294 (1955)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 349 U.S. 294 (1955)

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka

Reargued on the question of relief April 11-14, 1955

Opinion and judgments announced May 31, 1955*

349 U.S. 294

Syllabus

1. Racial discrimination in public education is unconstitutional, 347 U. S. 347 U.S. 483, 347 U. S. 497, and all provisions of federal, state or local law requiring or permitting such discrimination must yield to this principle. P. 349 U. S. 298.

2. The judgments below (except that in the Delaware case) are reversed and the cases are remanded to the District Courts to take such proceedings and enter such orders and decrees consistent with this opinion as are necessary and proper to admit the parties to these cases to public schools on a racially nondiscriminatory basis with all deliberate speed. P. 349 U. S. 301.

(a) School authorities have the primary responsibility for elucidating, assessing and solving the varied local school problems which may require solution in fully implementing the governing constitutional principles. P. 349 U. S. 299.

(b) Courts will have to consider whether the action of school authorities constitutes good faith implementation of the governing constitutional principles. P. 349 U. S. 299.

(c) Because of their proximity to local conditions and the possible need for further hearings, the courts which originally heard these cases can best perform this judicial appraisal. P. 349 U. S. 299.

(d) In fashioning and effectuating the decrees, the courts will be guided by equitable principles -- characterized by a practical flexibility in shaping remedies and a facility for adjusting and reconciling public and private needs. P. 349 U. S. 300.

Page 349 U. S. 295

(e) At stake is the personal interest of the plaintiffs in admission to public schools as soon as practicable on a nondiscriminatory basis. P. 349 U. S. 300.

(f) Courts of equity may properly take into account the public interest in the elimination in a systematic and effective manner of a variety of obstacles in making the transition to school systems operated in accordance with the constitutional principles enunciated in 347 U. S. 347 U.S. 483, 347 U. S. 497; but the vitality of these constitutional principles cannot be allowed to yield simply because of disagreement with them. P. 349 U. S. 300.

(g) While giving weight to these public and private considerations, the courts will require that the defendants make a prompt and reasonable start toward full compliance with the ruling of this Court. P. 349 U. S. 300.

(h) Once such a start has been made, the courts may find that additional time is necessary to carry out the ruling in an effective manner. P. 349 U. S. 300.

(i) The burden rests on the defendants to establish that additional time is necessary in the public interest and is consistent with good faith compliance at the earliest practicable date. P. 349 U. S. 300.

(j) The courts may consider problems related to administration, arising from the physical condition of the school plant, the school transportation system, personnel, revision of school districts and attendance areas into compact units to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis, and revision of local laws and regulations which may be necessary in solving the foregoing problems. Pp. 349 U. S. 300-301.

(k) The courts will also consider the adequacy of any plans the defendants may propose to meet these problems and to effectuate a transition to a racially nondiscriminatory school system. P. 349 U. S. 301.

(l) During the period of transition, the courts will retain jurisdiction of these cases. P. 349 U. S. 301.

3. The judgment in the Delaware case, ordering the immediate admission of the plaintiffs to schools previously attended only by white children, is affirmed on the basis of the principles stated by this Court in its opinion, 347 U. S. 347 U.S. 483, but the case is remanded to the Supreme Court of Delaware for such further proceedings as that Court may deem necessary in the light of this opinion. P. 349 U. S. 301.

98 F.Supp. 797, 103 F.Supp. 920, 103 F.Supp. 337 and judgment in No. 4, reversed and remanded.

91 A.2d 137, affirmed and remanded.

Page 349 U. S. 298

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Primary Holding

The task of implementing programs to achieve desegregation in public schools belongs to the schools themselves.

Facts

After the Brown I decision, which ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional, the Supreme Court sought an additional set of arguments on what remedies would be appropriate. This presented a notable challenge because the cases stemmed from many different regions of the U.S. with distinctive conditions and problems. The Court acknowledged that all of the federal, state, and local laws that condoned segregation must be altered.

Opinions

Majority

  • Earl Warren (Author)
  • Hugo Lafayette Black
  • Stanley Forman Reed
  • Felix Frankfurter
  • William Orville Douglas
  • Tom C. Clark
  • Sherman Minton
  • Harold Hitz Burton
  • John Marshall Harlan II

The courts that are most closely situated to local conditions are best equipped to consider whether the schools are acting in good faith when they are applying the constitutional mandate. Any further hearings can most easily be conducted in those courts, which should consider the need to reconcile public and private interests as well as the importance of practical flexibility in determining what remedies may be appropriate. In all areas, however, the school systems must start pursuing full racial integration promptly. The amount of time needed to achieve the goals of Brown I is unclear, and the time period may need to be extended, but the schools will be responsible for proving to the courts that an extension is needed and is compliant in good faith with the Constitution.

Some of the practical issues that courts may need to take into account include facilities, transportation systems, changes to school district and local laws, and any proposals made by the school districts. During the shift toward integration, the courts will retain authority over the project. The lower courts must enter order orders that are consistent with this opinion and that further the goal of providing children access to public schools on a race-neutral basis.

Case Commentary

The Supreme Court used this decision to delegate the responsibilities of implementing Brown I. Several decades later, many observers would argue that these efforts either failed or produced only short-term results that were eroded. White flight and other phenomena have led to the re-segregation of public schools in many areas, often in situations where there may be no discriminatory intent.

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