May 17 marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark case that ended legal segregation in the United States. The federal courts are commemorating the historic Supreme Court of the United States ruling in Brown v. Board of Education with a variety of online resources.
The resources are designed as educational tools and include lesson plans for a reader's theater re-enactment of the case that includes speaking parts for 10 key figures in the case. They include Thurgood Marshall, who argued the case in 1954 as a lawyer for the NAACP; Topeka, Kansas, elementary school student Linda Brown; and then-Chief Justice Earl Warren.
The site also includes a history of the case and a profile of Thurgood Marshall as a justice of the Supreme Court.
Also available on the U.S. Courts website is a history of Brown v. Board of Education and related predecessor cases dating to the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, along with a podcast on Brown v. Board of Education.
60 years later
Kevin D. Brown, professor in the IU Maurer School of Law, called the decision "a turning point in American history." Even though it ultimately had a limited effect on school desegregation, he said, it had a far-reaching impact on American society.
“Recall that in 1954, people of African descent were called Negroes or colored out of respect, and coon, darkie and even black as an insult," Brown said. "The court's opinion preceded by 10 years the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and by 11 years the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Segregation and conscious racial discrimination were the explicit law of the land in many areas of the country.
"Thus, while a reflection on this anniversary may acknowledge the frustration that comes with recognizing we still have a long way to go regarding race relations, it must also celebrate the success by pointing out how far we have come," Brown added.
Carlton Mark Waterhouse, professor of law at the IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law, notes the decision created a tremendous sense of expectation. Many believed the nation's schools would no longer be segregated, either by law or in fact.
But that hasn't happened, he said. De facto segregation continued as many whites moved to the suburbs or transferred their children to private schools. Schools grew less segregated for 20 years, but progress stalled, he expained.
"Today we find that schools in many places are more segregated than they were in the '70s," Waterhouse said. "That is, I think, discouraging to people. We tend to view ourselves as a less biased society today. But these consequences and outcomes suggest there are still ways in which race is affecting the education of our children."
Read more analysis of the impact of Brown v. Board of Education.