The Role Of The Supreme Court In The Civil Rights Movement

1933 words - 8 pages

The Supreme Court was important in both suppressing and aiding the Civil Rights Movement. However, decisions taken by the President, the continued white opposition and improvements in media communications also had an effect. Although all were important, the Civil Rights movement alone would have reached the same end without the help of the Supreme Court, and the devotion of its many members and leaders is the major factor in advancing Civil Rights.

The Supreme Court is perhaps most well known for the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954. By declaring that segregation in schools was unconstitutional, Kevern Verney says a ‘direct reversal of the Plessy … ruling’1 58 years earlier was affected. It was Plessy which gave southern states the authority to continue persecuting African-Americans for the next sixty years. The first positive aspect of Brown was was the actual integration of white and black students in schools. Unfortunately, this was not carried out to a suitable degree, with many local authorities feeling no obligation to change the status quo. The Supreme Court did issue a second ruling, the so called Brown 2, in 1955. This forwarded the idea that integration should proceed 'with all deliberate speed', but James T. Patterson tells us even by 1964 ‘only an estimated 1.2% of black children ... attended public schools with white children’2. This demonstrates that, although the Supreme Court was working for Civil Rights, it was still unable to force change. Rathbone agrees, saying the Supreme Court ‘did not do enough to ensure compliance’3. However, Patterson goes on to say that ‘the case did have some impact’4. He explains how the ruling, although often ignored, acted ‘relatively quickly in most of the boarder states’5 and that it prompted ‘laws against racial discrimination’ in the North. Even so, Brown was mainly negative in practical respects. The second element of the ruling - the effect it had on African-American supporters and the encouragement if afforded - had a greater impact. Paterson and Willoughby say the 'psychological need for integration6’ had been recognised, what Patterson calls ‘the symbolic value of Brown’7. All three historians agree that African-Americans needed some success to motivate the continued struggle, and this Brown provided. Patterson says activists were ‘extraordinarily heartened by Brown’8. Kevern Verney talks of a ‘renewed hope’9 given to African-Americans. They were similarly helped by Browder v. Gayle in 1956, which ruled the bus segregation in Montgomery unconstitutional, and Boyton v. Virginia in 1960, which extended this ruling to waiting rooms and restaurants. According to Willoughby and Paterson, the ‘clear-cut decision’ came ‘in the knick-of time'10 for the protest movement, which might not have succeeded without the ruling by the court. Even here, however, the court was unable to enforce the actions. One observer recalled a ‘bus station ... still rigorously segregated’11, in 1966....

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