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In 1955, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that public schools should be racially integrated, and overturned the separate but equal doctrine established in Plessy v Ferguson decades before. This was made possible by a concerted legal effort spearheaded by the NAACP. Beginning in the 1930s, the NAACP's legal defense fund (led by Thurgood Marshall at the time of the Brown Decision) pursued a strategy of bringing cases to court that would expand the civil rights of Black Americans. This multi-decade effort culminated in the Brown decision, with many other victories along the way.

Clint's book, How the Word is Passed is available now!


Rachel Devlin, A Girl Stands at the Door: The Generation of Young Women Who Desegregated America's Schools. New York: Basic Books, 2018.
Justin Driver, The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind. New York: Pantheon Books, 2018.
Charles Ogletree, Jr. All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half-Century of Brown V. Board of Education. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004.
James T. Patterson, Brown v. Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Klarman, Michael J. "How Brown Changed Race Relations: The Backlash Thesis." The Journal of American History 81, no. 1 (1994): 81-118. Accessed July 29, 2021. doi:10.2307/2080994.

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CC Kids:

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Hi.  I'm Clint Smith, and this is Crash Course Black American History. 

And today we are going back to the courtroom!  If you've been watching this series, it's probably starting to feel like a pretty familiar place because a lot of history has played out here.  While many Black Americans were kept from voting because of domestic terrorism and Jim Crow laws, the courtroom became a place where unfair practices could be challenged.  

Today we're going to talk about one of the most important cases in US history: the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education.  Let's start the show!


Because Black people often didn't have representation in their state or congressional bodies, it sometimes made changing laws through legislation difficult.  But the courts were one avenue through which Black Americans were able to fight for their citizenship rights, and feel like they had a chance.  When the Constitution was amended to include the Reconstruction Amendments (aka the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments) Black Americans were formally made citizens of the United States.  And citizenship is important because it affirms that you have access to rights and resources in your country.  But many white Americans weren't okay with Black Americans becoming citizens.  They benefited from Black Americans not having the same protections and resources that they did.  And so White Americans created Jim Crow laws that implemented segregation and hindered Black Americans' right to vote.  

We'll talk more about the Civil Rights Movement and the fight to vote in a few more episodes, but segregation is an important place to start.  Segregation wasn't just morally bad; but also discreetly - or maybe not so discreetly - assured that Black Americans wouldn't be able to access all of the practical and material benefits of their citizenship.

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