May 17, 1954

Supreme Court Strikes Down "Separate but Equal"

Greater Boston

On this day in 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the doctrine of separate but equal. "Segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race . . . deprives the children of a minority group of equal educational opportunities," the justices ruled in Brown v. Board of Education. In 1848 Boston's black community had turned to the courts to integrate the city's public schools. In ruling against them, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court asserted that separate was equal. The cause was won only when the fight moved from the courts to the state legislature, which voted to outlaw segregated public schools in 1855. A century later, attorneys in Brown v. Board used some of the same arguments lawyers had made in the Boston case.

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