Supreme Court desegregation ruling climaxes 30-year battle

WASHINGTON, May 17, 1954 (UP) - The five Supreme Court cases testing racial segregation in public schools climaxed 30 years of effort by Negro leaders to kill the separate-but-equal concept.

Four of the cases - involving Virginia, South Carolina, Kansas and Delaware - were started by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.


Another Negro group initiated the fifth case, involving the District of Columbia, where the school system operates under laws passed by Congress.

The NAACP based its argument against segregated schools on the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which says that no state may deprive any person of "the equal protection of the laws."

The amendment was enacted in 1866 (and ratified in 1868), right after the Civil War, to wipe out the Supreme Court's famed Dred Scott decision that a Negro was not a citizen.

Thirty years later, however, the high court in the Plessy vs. Ferguson case laid down the separate-but-equal racial doctrine. This became firmly established in the South as a rule of living for the two races.

The Plessy decision upheld a Louisiana law requiring separate railway accommodations within a state for Negro and white.

Segregation in transportation, schools and elsewhere was supposed to be contingent on Negroes being afforded facilities equal to those for white persons. But the NAACP contended segregation in itself is unconstitutional.

The Negroes urged a reversal of the Plessy decision on grounds that under the 14th Amendment a state cannot constitutionally use race as a basis for legislation of any kind. The states argued that grouping of children by race, sex, age, mental capacity or whatever is a matter for state legislatures and not for federal courts.

The test cases were first argued before the Supreme Court in December, 1952. Last June the court, aware of the magnitude of the decision confronting it, ordered more arguments dealing largely with the history and meaning of the 14th Amendment and the court's powers under it.

The additional arguments were held last December with the Eisenhower Administration supporting the Negroes.

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