Roberts pic
Photo from a 1839 Boston Newspaper reading, “Colored Scholars excluded from Schools” Roberts v. Boston addressed this issue for the first time in American History and overturned the doctrine that colored people were not allowed in white schools.


1850Roberts v. City of BostonSarah Roberts was a five-year old African American girl living in the City of Boston. Her father, Benjamin F. Roberts, tried to enroll her in an all-white school that was closer than the school that she was attending. When her father attempted to enroll her into the all-white school she was denied on the basis of race. This was the first time that a court system had seen the idea of separate but equal in a public school. When the court ruled in favor of the City of Boston the precedent of separate but equal was established. Six years later, in 1855, Roberts once again brought the issue to the attention of the Supreme Court. It was then that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts decided to ban segregated schools. The Roberts v. City of Boston was the first court case to prohibit segregated schools in the Unites States. This court case set an example for other northern states to prohibit segregated schools.




Homer Plessy
Photo of Homer Adolph Plessy. A Creole from Louisiana who were determined to be a man of color.


1896 – Plessy v. Ferguson Plessy v. Ferguson was a landmark court decision which established the precedent of separate but equal in the United States. In the case, an African American man named Homer Plessy purchased a first class ticket for a train and boarded the car that was labeled the whites only car. After refusing to move to the colored section of the train, Plessy was arrested and faced charges from the State of Louisiana. Plessy was breaking Louisiana State Law and since the train was only running within state borders, the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments could not protect him. Plessy was found guilty of the charges forced to pay a fine. This case is significant because it established the precedent of ‘separate but equal’ and administered the separation of different races in public settings. Since the Court endorsed the idea of categorizing people based off of race, many bigoted laws were soon to follow.






Martha Lum School Photo
Photo Of Martha Gong Lum’s class in Mississippi. The Supreme Court determined that Chinese people are not white and therefore are people of color. Chinese students were forced to attend their own schools.


1827Gong Lum v. Rice – Throughout American history minorities have been classified as non-whites and therefore face the same segregation that African Americans face. This unequal practice was questioned in the State of Mississippi in 1927. In the Gong Lum v. Rice case “a Chinese family sought relief from having its child attend Black schools and asked the Court to allow the child to attend white schools.”[1] The court decided that on the basis of Plessy v. Ferguson and denied the girl the opportunity to go to the all-white school. This decision was supported by the Supreme Court and strengthened the statements made in the Plessy case of 1896. Although the Brown ruling wouldn’t be passed for another quarter century, the NAACP was making strides in desegregating graduate educational programs throughout Universities and Colleges in the south.

[1] Brown, Frank . “The Continuing Search for Quality Education by African Americans: Fifty Years after Brown.” The Journal of Negro Education. Vol. 73, No. 3: p.172


lloyd gaines
Lloyd Gaines was a College Graduate and was denied entrance to the University of Missouri Law school because he was a man of color


1938 – Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada – In the Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada case the Supreme Court decided that “equal protection meant equal protection within the state’s own borders.”[1] In this case, the State of Missouri had built a law school strictly for law students. When Lloyd Gaines was refused admission based on the color of his skin, Gaines argued on the basis of the Fourteenth Amendment. Cy Woodson Canada, the man who refused Gaines admission to the Law School, argued that the school offered to pay for Gaines tuition at and out of state law school. On December 12, 1938 the Court came to the decision that the school must provide Gaines with equal protection under the law and that since there is only one school, African Americans and minority students are eligible to attend. This Court decision did not terminate the separate but equal doctrine but it did show that the fourteenth amendment would be protected under the Supreme Court regardless of the separate equal doctrine.

[1] Kauper, Paul G., “Segregation in Public Education: The Decline of Plessy v. Ferguson.” Michigan Law Review. Vol. 2, No. 8: p.1146.




Mendez v. Westminster
Painting showing the importance the Mendez case had on Latino students path to equality in the classroom.


1947 – Mendez v. Westminster School District – Segregation was not simply the separation of people who are blacks and people who are white, but more the segregation of all minorities from people who are white. Many states that are in the southwest corner of the United States often house people of Mexican ancestry. In the 1940’s certain California school districts forced students of Mexican descent to attend separate schools than white students. This was a violation of the Fourteenth amendment. The educational facilities that children of Mexican background were using were less than equal to the facilities that white students were benefitting from. In the court case Mendez v. Westminster School District, Mexican children were denied the opportunity to attend all-white schools and secluded to a separate school for students of Mexican ancestry. The 1947, the federal court reached the decision that “segregation of school children allegedly based on English language deficiencies but in fact determined by Mexican ancestry deprives them of ‘social equality’ and in contravention of the 14th Amendment, denies them equal protection of laws.”[1] It was determined that this unfair treatment was unjust and unconstitutional.

[1] “Segregation in Schools as a Violation of the XIVth Aendment (Mendez v. West Minister School Districts, S. D. Cal. 1946).” Columbia Law Review. Vol. 47, No. 2: (March 1947) p. 326


This photograph shows Thurgood Marshall and Ada Sipuel in 1948, with J. E. Fellows and Amos T. Hall. (Courtesy of Library of Congress)


1948 – Sipuel v. Board of Regents – The Sipuel v. Board of Regents was another court case that dealt with segregation at a higher education institution. The Sipuel case which occurred in January of 1948 had the same ingredients as the Gaines case. Sipuel wanted to attend an all-white law school at the University of Oklahoma. Once again she was denied this ability based on the color of her skin. This decided that Sipuel had been denied her equal rights by “Oklahoma because of its refusal to admit Negro students to the state law school when no separate law school was maintained for Negroes.”[1] In both the Gaines and Sipuel case, the Supreme Court sided with the Fourteenth Amendment and states that since no separate school was provided for African Americans or minorities, they have the right to attend the school that is provided for white students. Although neither of these cases overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson Doctrine, each of them did make great strides in achieving equal opportunity for African Americans and minorities.

[1] Kauper, Paul G., “Segregation in Public Education: The Decline of Plessy v. Ferguson.” Michigan Law Review. Vol. 2, No. 8: p.1146.


African American Student Sits Outside of Classroom
George McLaurin sitting outside of the white classroom while attending Law School in Oklahoma


1950 – McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents – The McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents (1950) case had an even larger impact on segregation in Public Schools than the other two previously discussed. In the McLaurin Case, an African American was accepted to a University to complete his graduate work. Since the University had separate facilities for McLaurin to read, complete graduate work, and eat, the Supreme Court decided that this restricted him from receiving an equal education.[1] Since he did not receive equal education towards his profession the Supreme Court was able to reach a decision but once again avoided overturning Plessy case. The Supreme Court stated “Following this decision, the Oklahoma legislature amended these statutes to permit the admission of Negroes to institutions of higher learning attended by white students, in cases where such institutions offered courses not available in the Negro Schools. The amendment provided, however, that in such cases the program of instruction ‘shall be given at such colleges or institutions of higher education upon a segregated basis.”[2] Since reconsideration of the separate but equal doctrine was refused in multiple cases the likelihood of it being overturned seemed distant. However, the Brown v. Board of Education was an ideal case to grant equal educational opportunity. Although the McLaurin case improved higher educational opportunities African Americans, the expression ‘separate but equal’ still existed in the United States.

[1] Kauper, Paul G., “Segregation in Public Education: The Decline of Plessy v. Ferguson.” Michigan Law Review. Vol. 2, No. 8: p.1147.

[2] “McLaurin Versus University of Oklahoma.” The Journal of Negro Education. Vol. 19, No. 4: p.516.


Herman Sweat waiting in line at The University of Texas


1950 – Sweatt v. Painter – The Sweatt v. Painter case in 1950 gave the most hope to the desegregation of public schools. In the Sweatt case a man by the name of Herman Marion Sweatt was denied admission to a Law School at the University of Texas. The president of the Law School, Theophilus Painter, refused his admittance on the basis of the Texas State Constitution. The Texas State Constitution banned integrated schools. In 1950, Texas did not have a single law school that allowed attendance by black scholars. In order to keep the status quo, Texas produced a law school for all black students in the city of Houston. Due to the Plessy decision this law school had to be separate but equal. When Painter tried to justify the refusal of the admittance of Sweatt, the Supreme Court examined the University of Texas Law School and the Thurgood Marshall School of Law and recognized multiple differences between the two.






Photos of Both Oliver and Linda Brown along with a photocopy of the State Journal Newspaper that was released after the decision to overturn Plessy was made

  1954- Brown v. Board of Education- In 1954, the Brown V. Board of Education decision sought to end racial segregation in Public Schools. What is typically unspoken of in American history is that nearly two decades later many schools in the United States were still segregated. As the Sweatt decision and many other previous cases show, segregation has no place in public educational facilities. All of the cases previously mentioned acted as stepping stones to the milestone case of Brown v. Board of Education. In the Brown case, Oliver Brown, an African American man, contended the idea of separate but equal, when his third grade daughter, Linda, was refused the admittance to a white school. In 1952, Brown (daughter) had to travel further to get to her segregated black school than she would have had to travel to get to Sumner Elementary School, just a few blocks away. The decision of the District Court ruled on the side of separate but equal. In 1953, the Supreme Court contended this ruling and “ruled that laws requiring racially separate schools were unconstitutional.”[1] Sadly, as previously stated, the decision on the Brown case did not bring an abrupt end to segregated schools in the South; rather segregation is still present in public schools today.[2]

Brown v. Board was a case of high importance that litigated a number of cases that supported the separate but equal doctrine. The reason the Brown case was brought to public attention is because of the recent Supreme Court decisions on Sipuel v. Board of Regents, Sweatt v. Painter, and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents at the. Each of these cases set the precedence that separate but equal does not have a place in the educational realm, but none of them overturned the Plessy Supreme Court Decision. In the Brown case, Thurgood Marshall and his assistant Robert Carter contested the recent decisions of Briggs v. Elliott (1950), Brown v. Board (1954), and Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (1951).[3] Other cases being questioned at the time were Gebhart v. Belton (1952) and Bolling v Sharpe (1954).[4] The reason why Brown grew to carry the most historical significance is because of the way the lawyers went about attacking segregation during this case.

[1]Brown, Frank , “The Continuing Search for Quality Education by African Americans: Fifty Years after Brown.” The Journal of Negro Education. Vol. 73, No. 3: p.172

[2]Brown, Frank , “The Continuing Search for Quality Education by African Americans: Fifty Years after Brown.” The Journal of Negro Education. Vol. 73, No. 3: p.173

[3] Carter, Robert L. , “Brown’s Legacy: Fulfilling the Promise of Equal Education.” The Journal of Negro Education Celebrating the Legacy of the Journal: 75 Years of Facilitating Excellence in Black Education. Vol. 76, No. 3: p. 244

[4] Carter, Robert L. , “Brown’s Legacy: Fulfilling the Promise of Equal Education.” The Journal of Negro Education Celebrating the Legacy of the Journal: 75 Years of Facilitating Excellence in Black Education. Vol. 76, No. 3: p. 244


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s