Introduction to Racism in America

Introduction to Racism in America

Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka

African-American School Children - History GCSE RevisionThe Supreme Court played a decisive role in another challenge against racial inequality, when in 1954 thirteen African-American parents living in Topeka challenged the local school board’s racial segregation policy in the Supreme Court. The Court ruled that the State’s laws on racial segregation were unconstitutional.

Both of these rulings were very significant because they meant that many of the laws that states had regarding segregation were unconstitutional (ie. they broke the terms of the US Constitution, something that no state or federal law can ever do), meaning they could not be enforced.

Little Rock, Arkansas

Little Rock - History GCSE RevisionBut laws are one thing, and attitudes are another. Many people in the South were not prepared to accept black people as equals just because the Supreme Court said they should. This was demonstrated in Little Rock, Arkansas, in September 1957. Little Rock High School had received orders to desegregate. Little Rock was considered to be one of the best high schools in the state, and the local NAACP arranged for nine black students to be enrolled there. When they showed up on the first day of the new school year, they were met by over a thousand angry white protestors, as well as the Governor of Arkansas, who used the Arkansas National Guard to stop the kids entering the building. But you can’t disobey the Supreme Court. Or rather you can, but if you do the President will send in the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army to force you to stop what you’re doing, as happened here. But it didn’t end there. The Governor made moves to close down all the public schools In Little Rock, gaining the support of the white population in doing this. They then blamed the local black community for the schools being closed. And when the schools re-opened a year later, mobs of protestors continued to hurl abuse at black people as they went to school.

Late 50s

By the late fifties, then, some gains had been made that gave impetus to the Civil Rights movement. But a few legal victories certainly didn’t get rid of racist attitudes or poverty. And incidents such as Little Rock showed that civil rights campaigners would be fought every step of the way as they tried to overturn racial inequality.