the Topeka, Kansas, student at the center of the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, died yesterday (Mar. 26) at the age of 75. The 1954 decision against the Board of Education of Topeka declared segregation on the basis of race in US public schools unconstitutional.
But while her victory was one of the most important legal milestones of the civil rights movement, it did not automatically integrate schools across the US. Years after the court case, school districts across the country fought the ruling, most notably in the 1957 case of the
Little Rock Nine, who needed to be escorted into their high school by US Army troops following hostile protests and a National Guard blockade. Nine African American students enter Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., escorted by troops of the 101st Airborne Division on Sept. 25, 1957. (AP Photo) Seven of nine black students walk onto the campus of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., with a National Guard officer as an escort as other troops watch on Oct. 15, 1957. (AP Photo/Fred Kaufman) Defiant white students at Arkansas’ North Little Rock High School block the doors of the school, denying access to six African American students enrolled in the school Sept. 9, 1957. Moments later the African American students were shoved down a flight of stairs and onto the sidewalk, where city police broke up the altercation. (AP Photo/William P. Straeter) Richard Richardson, 17, and Harold Smith, 17, right, two of six black students who attempted to enter North Little Rock High School, Ark. on Sept. 9, 1957. (AP Photo) Two young African-American mothers escorting their children to elementary school No. 34 pass pickets lines during a demonstration against integration in Baltimore, Maryland, on Oct. 4, 1954. (AP Photo) Unidentified pickets appeared at the board of education office in Louisville, Kentucky, on Sept. 10, 1956. They protested the city’s integration of public schools. (AP Photo) Ernestine Norwood and Zelma Roberts Palestine Roberts, black students who started attending classes at Van Buren High School, wait in administrative offices to clear their absence of several days when they stopped attending school out of fear after threats from some white students on Sept. 22, 1958. (AP Photo) Onlookers stand in front of gaping hole torn in the east wall of Hattie Cotton Grammar School by a dynamite blast in Nashville, Tennessee, on Sept. 10, 1957. Police later roped off the area to keep away sightseers. Hattie Cotton was one of six Nashville elementary schools admitting blacks and whites together in the first grade. (AP Photo) Observed by journalists and fellow students, two of five black students assigned to Norview Senior High School in Norfolk, Virginia, pause at the school door on Feb. 2, 1959 as six Norfolk schools integrated their student bodies. (AP Photo)
But elsewhere, news photos from the era documented the relative newness of an integrated school, something that may be taken for granted today.
An integrated class at Griffin School in Monticello, Kentucky, on July 23, 1955, the first Kentucky public school to attempt integration. (AP Photo) An unidentified African American student sits inside a classroom at Clinton High School in the newly integrated school in Clinton, Tennessee, Aug. 31, 1956. She sits in a rear seat near the door and is separated by empty desks as the white children sit at the far side of the room. There are 12 African American students attending the school, which had been the scene of minor violence over the previous two days as a result of integration. (AP Photo/Gene Herrick) One of the first two African-American students to register at the New Louisiana State University in New Orleans on Sept. 9, 1958, Josephine Eli, 17, draws stares as she waits in line among white students during registration process. (AP Photo) Two southern students from Charlottesville, Virginia, eat lunch at the Atlantic City High School cafeteria in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on March 3, 1959, with George Peopples, an African American. The southerners, Susanne Frederikson and Jon Bailey, are student leaders at the all-white Lane School in Charlottesville. They are on a week-long visit to watch integration at work. (AP Photo) Willie Pratt Jr., the only African-American student at Roger Q. Mills Elementary school in Dallas, files back into the building with two unidentified students after a bomb hoax evacuated the building on Sept. 7, 1961. (AP Photo) First grade boys play during recess at one of Nashville’s desegregated schools on Nov. 29, 1962. Under its grade-a-year plan, Nashville had desegregated the first six grades of its elementary schools. (AP Photo) African-American and white students mingle outside of Oak Ridge High School in Oak Ridge, Tenn., May 2, 1955. The Atomic Energy Commission ordered desegregation in junior and senior high schools of the federal atomic community. (AP Photo) An African-American and a white high school student look over a book together at the consolidated school in Hoxie, Arkansas, Aug 15, 1955. (AP Photo/Gene Herrick)
The 1950s were by no means the end of the fight for school integration, or the resistance to it. Programs like
Boston public schools use of bussing, moving children to different schools to achieve an equal racial balance , led to another wave of white backlash in the 1970s. Violent protests erupted, with protestors hurling bricks at school buses and shouting racial slurs.
Today, through the forces of economic and racial isolation, schools still remain highly stratified. Nikole Hannah-Jones, writing in the New York Times Magazine, noted that in New York City
a wide majority of black and latino students (85% and 75%, respectively) are attending schools with a less than 10% white student body.
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