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National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

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By 1948 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Educational Fund, headed by lawyer Thurgood Marshall, was focusing on dramatically unequal public schools. Eventually they would bring to the nation's highest court a group of five lawsuits initiated by African-American parents from South Carolina; Virginia; Washington, DC; Delaware; and Topeka, Kansas.

The Brown case was named for Oliver Brown, the pastor father of Linda, a seven-year-old third-grader. She daily navigated a Topeka rail yard and busy roads to attend an all-black school although a white school was nearby. Compared to other school systems in the Brown case, Topeka provided relatively equal facilities to its tiny black population; community activists emphasized that racial separation made black children there feel inferior.

The combined cases reached the Supreme Court in 1952, but its ruling was postponed in anticipation of a rehearing. By then the Court had a newly appointed chief justice, Earl Warren, a former Republican governor of California. Brown would become the first of many cases that made the Warren Court a byword for judicial activism on behalf of America's disenfranchised. Warren read the 11-page decision aloud. It invoked the Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment in support of equal protection for minorities. It marshaled sociological and psychological evidence showing that racial separation, especially of children, rendered them "inherently unequal." And Brown invalidated Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 ruling that had affirmed the doctrine of "separate but equal." In 1955 with a decision dubbed Brown II, the Court urged federal judges to undo school segregation "with all deliberate speed." . .

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