Last updated: March 11, 2019
Topic: EducationSchool
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Twentieth century history

Even before the American civil war commenced in 1861, racial segregation has been strongly practiced in majority of the public schools in the South. Likewise, various public schools in the Northern State allowed the practice of racial segregation. Apparently, all throughout the 19th century majority of black Americans resides in the South, thus the segregation process greatly affect most of the population of the Black Americans (Finkelman, 2008). It is also noteworthy that the education for white children was heavily reliant on private groups while the educations for black American children were considered to be nonexistent connoting that a large portion of the race was illiterate (National Center for public policy research, 2008).

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Until the end of civil war in 1865, there was a continuation in the segregation of schools and different facilities. It was only in 1896 that the case of Pessy v. Ferguson advocated the segregation process for as long as there is equality in the separate facilities that were used by the blacks and whites. From then on various civil rights campaigns were created in order to end the segregation (Finkelman, 2008). However, it was during the 1950’s that the movements led by African American student leaders emerged. The black students protested and rallied in order to promote changes in the policies and programs that permeate public schools, universities and colleges during that time.

One of the cases that spearheaded in the illustration of the unfairness of the segregation happened in Clarendon County in South Carolina. It was reported that 6531 black students in the county were attending their classes in only 61 buildings that lacked indoor plumbing and heating which is contrary with their white counterparts who attended in a school that contains facilities that are much better and buildings that worth $673, 850. In addition to these, the educators in the black school received very low salaries and the students were never granted to have school buses which were provided for the whites. Due to these circumstances students and teachers in the Clarendon County pursue for the creation of equality in the schools which was known as the Briggs v. Elliot case.  Although there was a refusal in mandating the integration of race in the schools in South Carolina, it was ruled by the South Carolina district court that there would be an equal funding for the schools of black students (Finkelman, 2008). This also led to the development of various school movements participated by black students and headed by black student leaders.

The South Carolina case alongside four other schools situated in Delaware, Kansas, Washington DC and Virginia that also filed cases against segregation were consolidated by the Supreme Court into a single case which is known as Brown v. Board of education (1954) named after Oliver Brown, the plaintiff from Kansas. The main goal of the case was to seek for the school systems as well as the courts the privilege for the Negro race to obtain admissions in the pubic schools and to provide substantial facilities in a non-segregated basis. Later on the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the segregation of the schools which is solely based on the race of an individual was unconstitutional from the law that was written in the fourteenth amendment (National Center for public policy research, 2008).   However, the most notable among the four movements was the one in Virginia specifically in Moton high. The students wanted to have a new building because the school is in need of indoor plumbing and a physical repair. The student leaders that spearheaded the strike were known to be members of families who were residing near the area for a long time. One of the well known leaders was Barbara Johns who belongs to a family of well identified activist. It was on April 23, 1951 when Barbara Johns and her classmate Carrie Stokes started to organize the strike. Johns spoke of her plans during the strike that eventually led for the students not to leave the grounds of the school. Many of the participants carried signs that expressed their needs for school repair and facilities. Both Johns and Stokes asked for NAACP’s legal counsel, and it was later on agreed upon by Oliver Hill, NAACP’s attorney. John’s and Stokes movement lasted for 10 days and all the students returned to the school on the 7th day of May after Hill made his promise that the student complaints would be brought to the court. It took a month for the complaint to be filed; however, the plaintiff was not named after Barbara Johns, it was named after a ninth grader named Dororthy Davis. Although it was filed under a different name, it was the advocacy of Barbara Johns that catapulted the students of Moton high to realize the unfair treatment of the school system among Black Americans (Congress of racial equality, 2006).

Three years after the ruling of Brown v. Board of education, the bravery of nine black students in Central high school in Little Rock Arkansas surfaced. Although the case of Brown v. Board of Education was able to debar the school segregation, many of public schools resisted the law, one of which is Little Rock, Arkansas’ Central high school. The nine black teenagers, who were later on tagged as the “The Little Rock Nine,” challenged the segregation through their determination to finish school and have the equivalent education that was given to white students. The nine teenagers faced various ordeals. During the first day of school, it was ordered by the governor of Arkansas to block the way of black students. Yet president Eisnhower sent federal troops to protect the teenagers. In addition to this they were also insulted and received threats that endanger their lives. However, due to the determination the Little Rock nine, they were able to continue their studies and majority of them were able to graduate from the all-white Central high school. The bravery of the Little Rock nine inspired other students until the 1960’s (Brunner, 2008).

The movements that were spearheaded by African American students create various changes in the education system in the United States. Apparently the fight for segregation in the school is the main reason that catapulted the activism of black students. However, without their bravery and leadership the system of education in the United States would still be centered to the white students. Moreover, there might be instances that the struggle for equal rights were defied by some schools yet with the persistence of the students and with the aid of African American organizations, it is still apparent that the black students were able to challenge the racist school system and defeated it.








Brunner, Borgna. (2008). “Civil rights movement heroes: The Little Rock Nine” Infoplease.       Retrieved September 6, 2008 from

Congress of Racial Equality. (2006). Brown vs Board of education case summaries.                    Retrieved September 6, 2008 from http://www.core-

Finkelman, P. (2008). “Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.” Microsof Encarta online        encyclopedia. Retrieved September 6, 2008 from      Topeka.html

The National Center for public policy research. (2008). Brown v. Board of Education, 347          U.S. 483 (1954) (USSC+). Retrieved September 6, 2008 from