Brown vs. Board of Education was a relatively unimportant motivating factor for the Civil Rights Movement between 1950-1963.
The significance of Brown as a motivating factor for the Civil Rights Movement can be evaluated through the importance of the legal precedent it established: pressuring political change and inspiring civil rights activism. Rosenberg views Brown as an insignificant case to the progression of the Civil Rights Movement, arguing there is little or no evidence that supports the claims that Brown gave civil rights salience, to the extent that he argues it delayed the achievement of civil rights.
The importance of the Brown ruling is perceived by many historians as a monumental stance for desegregation and a step towards integration, Greenberg expresses how it “served as the principal ideological engine,” for social change. Establishing Brown’s ruling as a historical decision by the Supreme Court, it held that segregation in public education violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In doing so Brown ended the separate but equal doctrine precedent, set by the Supreme Court nearly sixty years earlier.
In 1896 the Supreme Court held the case Plessy v. Ferguson, which challenged the constitutionality of segregated railroad coaches. However the court held that separate but equal facilities for white and black people did not violate the Equal Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, establishing the “separate but equal” doctrine as the constitutional basis for segregation; this was nationally applied to all levels of the justice system (Federal Court and District Court). The separate but equal doctrine influenced the perception of segregation, resulting in the Supreme Court condoning segregation nationally. This highlights the significance and influence of the Supreme Court ruling in dictating the political, social and legal response to segregation for the next sixty years, having a profound long lasting effect on the justification of segregation.
This is expressed in Melba Beals’ Memoir: ‘Warriors Don’t Cry’, where she recalls how at 12 years old she was nearly sexually assaulted walking back from school, the day of Brown’s ruling, by a white man outraged by black children “wanting to go with his children to school and he wasn’t going to stand for it. White men were in charge.” Illustrating how Brown manifested in everyday life and supporting Rosenberg’s analogy, that change in white opinion on race occurs from long-term trends and not from Supreme Court decision. Thus invalidating Brown’s importance as a motivating factor for the Civil rights movement, through the lack of influence it had on changing white people’s perception of segregation, hence social change and civil rights activism can not stem from a single Supreme Court decision, which negatively impacted the black communities.
The long lasting effect of the normalisation of segregation, and how a single decision questioned the fundamental self-righteousness experience for a portion of the white American population can also be used to support the counter argument. Greenberg argues that Brown was a pivotal decision, which “profoundly affected national thinking and has served as the principal ideological engine.”Following this narrative one is able to discern the importance of Brown’s ruling in making segregation unconstitutional, and providing the bases for integration. T
his progression to integration facilitated civil rights activism to nationally strive for equality, illustrated by the Montgomery Bus Boycott, whose intension was to achieve integration. Following this perspective: the government’s progression towards integration was necessary to promote fundamental goals of the Civil Rights Movement, which were immortalised through Brown, therefore motivating civil rights activism to strive for integration. Thus leading to the analogy that Brown was only symbolically significant to the Civil Rights Movement –statistically only three percent of black students in the south were educated in mixed schools by 1957.
The radical change of thirty nine percent increase of black students, only occurred once the government placed economical sanctions with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that authorised denial of federal funds to school districts that discriminated. James Moore and Chance Lewis take into consideration that “without doubt advancements have been made” after Brown, however in the current day “much improvements are still needed throughout the American education,” placing Brown in the greater context.
What Brown signified was a new momentum for the pursuit of racial justice and civil rights. Reverend Edgar N. French expressed that “(T)he Supreme Court decision of 1954 restored hope to a people who had come to feel themselves helpless victims of outrageous and inhuman treatment.”
Although this statement was a later reflection, its conclusion is limited in representing an accurate portrayal of the black communities response to the event. put here about memory how could be distorted However it must be consider Reverend French’s position, firstly he was a crucial figure in the early days of the Montgomery bus boycott, was involved with Kings election as leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association. Therefore would have been very educated all civil rights activisms and legal cases, hence he would have personally understood the significance of the case, this means of the enabled him to accurately portray his communities response to Brown, as religion was vital part of society at that time, meaning he frequently saw the community.
The accountability of Brown’s symbolic value for motivating the Civil Rights Movement and catalysing national protest will be argued through Brown’s social significance. Both Sander and Tushnut acknowledge Brown’s symbolic value in providing hope of both legal and social change –through the black community knowing their government endorsed the principle for which they contended– catalysing national civil right protest. Rosenberg counters Brown’s symbolic value by challenging “the courts actions this gave civil rights prominence, putting it on the political agenda… influenced both Presidents and Congress to act… [and] influenced black Americans to act in favour of Civil rights.” Rosenberg supports his analogy by arguing that there is limited evidence that bear any factual precedent. Brown was not referenced in the civil rights bill, neither did press coverage of civil rights issues increase in a sustained way, however Rosenberg fails to accredit the cultural impact of Brown.
The cultural impact can be evaluated through the social value of education in the black community. The NACCP’s decision to challenge the education system rather than the transport system (bus boycotts), was more influential and had a greater symbolic value by enabling the black community to gain a voice within society, resulting in government action towards desegregation and equality. This is shown in the NACCP repeatedly challenging the education system in the lead up to Brown. The NACCP’s decision to target segregation in education was pivotal in giving hope to the improvement of black lives generally speaking, through education being perceived as the prerequisite to increasing chances of receiving a higher earning and secure income.
The social value of education within the black community supports the argument of “influenc[ing] black Americans to act in favour of Civil rights,” challenging Rosenburg’s argument, this is exemplified by the establishment of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1960. Brown signified to the black community an opportunity to succeed in legal changes against segregation.
Tushnut proposed a question that brings this to attention, how Brown gave the black community the confidence to maintain 381 days of protest “had they not known that one of the nation’s major governing institutions had endorsed the principle for which they were contending,” if they did not believe that “ultimately their legal challenge would prevail.” This reinforced that Brown established a new basis of segregation to be challenged, highlighting how it was a fundamental motivating factor in the mass mobilisation, therefore important to the progression of the Civil Rights Movement. In conclusion Brown’s symbolic value in proved hope of change both legal and social, catalysed national protest knowing their government endorsed the principle for which they contended.
The accountability of Brown’s symbolic value for motivating the Civil Rights Movement and catalysing national protest will be argued through the Baton Rouge Boycott. Baton Rouge Boycott was a boycott of city buses, seeking to achieve greater seat availability for black passengers. The black community’s ability to successfully arranged free taxis consisting of 125 private cars that transported the 14,000 residents, who refused to board city buses, defined the movement’s historical significance.
The success of the six-day protest, which resulted in negative economical impact on the city’s transportation system, was used as a template for the Montgomery Bus Boycott 1956. Reverend Mr. Jemison, leader of the Baton Rouge Boycott, said in an interview in 1993: “we were not necessarily interested at the time in ending segregation.” This brings to light the mentality and view of the time, they were more interested in achieving immediate social change, by no longer needing to stand at the back of the bus while the front was empty and reserved for white passengers. This is shown in the Baton Rouge ruling where the front two seats were reserved for white passengers, rather than the whole front of the bus, bringing to light how segregation had not been removed but compromised. Hence illustrating how the Baton Rouge Boycott’s goal was not to trigger a national movement striving for equality, this is supported by Mr. Jemison’s interview.
The credibility of the interview could be hindered by it taking place post monumental legislations in the civil right struggle (Civil Rights Act 1964), however merely reinforces it: Mr. Jemison could have taken credit for starting the civil right movement as argued by Morris, who views it as ‘the first major battle of the modern civil rights movement.’ In addition Mr. Jemison believed in the ‘separate but equal doctrine,’ this is illustrated by the 2015 interview with Johnnie A. Jones, the civil rights attorney, who expressed regret and frustration that the case was not challenged further as “it should not have ended we should have appeal… Reverend Jemison to appeal, but he just would not do it, he really thought that the law was separate but equal.” Although this is limited through being a recollection and coming from a place of regret, still provide an insight in the justification for the case not to be challenged and segregation remained in Baton Rouge transport.
This illustrates how prior to Brown the black community was not interested in ending segregation, even if the Baton Rouge Boycott was the first mass mobilisation, its intension was not to bring national social change. This demonstrates why Brown was so crucial in changing African American mentality, through defining the separate but equal doctrine as inherently unequal and addressing segregation as a national issue. Outlining why the Montgomery Bus Boycott was unique, as the people involved knew that they had a chance of achieving desegregation through the law and saw desegregation as their goal. Therefore Brown did not simply bring hope of a successful legal challenge, it radically changed the intension of protests to challenge segregation and achieve integration.
To access how the social context of the 1950’s influenced or undermined the importance of the ruling of Brown enables a better understanding of the role of Brown as a motivating factor for the Civil Rights Movement. Shawki argues that the social context of the 1950s was the most important motivating factor of the Civil Rights Movement, as a result of the black community’s national change in their social status and influence to government action. This is contested by Klarman who argues that the social context in which Brown was introduced directly influenced how was received, forcing the government to condemn southern violence and support desegregation, resulting in national empowering of the black community to protest. Shawki argues that Brown only confirmed the basic thrust of Court’s rulings towards desegregation from the 1940’s, placing emphases on the social context as the primary motivating factor for the Civil Rights Movement.
A pivotal aspect to his argument is the necessary change needed in the USA post World War II, where they fought for freedom and justice; whilst in their own country there was not justice or freedom for all citizens. This shows the hypocrisy in the American values and the undermining of American democracy, this lead to the government pushing for a desegregation agenda. In addition the shift in mentality to Civil Rights could be accredited to the growing black middle class, which had a greater social influence. Shawki’s interpretation of Brown as the “basic thrust of the Court”, hence insignificant to the progression of the Civil Right Movement, does not fully explain why there was such a harsh Southern response, and great political division that caused the period of the 1950s to be referred as the stagnation of the Civil rights movement. This clearly highlights the Brown’s ruling gave a unique message and political stance, to simply dismiss Brown as an inevitable case, and a product of its time raises the question: why was it so divisive in the progression of the government’s political agenda?
The relationship between Brown and the drastic resurgence of Southern racism can be argued to either demonstrate the importance of the institutions endorsement of desegregation through Brown or hinder the progression of the Civil Rights Movement. This is exemplified in desegregation becoming a salient political issue in the South, causing extreme change for pro-segregation political agenda, which was the driving force for political candidates success. This is shown with George Wallace, the governor of Alabama in 1962 whom prior to Brown showed a moderate progression to a liberal agenda with no negative repercussions that did not undermined his support. Wallace’s stance changed to ultra segregation, resulting in him coming to power with the support of the Ku Klux Klan.
The extent of the southern resistance is shown in the ‘Southern Manifesto’ signed in 1956 by 101 Congressmen. The change in the political climate in the south reflects the white population’s dissatisfaction with Brown, this was accentuated when, by 1956, 250,000 people joined the White Citizens’ Council and led to the NACCP being banned in Alabama and in Louisiana where 48 of the 50 branches were closed. The extent of the extreme Southern backlash has historians, such as Klarman to refer to Brown’s effect as “indirectly responsible for the landmark civil rights legislations of the mid 1960s by catalysing the southern resistance to racial change.” This introduces the concept that the social context in which Brown was introduced directly influenced the motivation of the Civil Rights Movement, through forcing the government to take a political stance of desegregation, resulting in an opposition of Southern racism.
This is exemplified in Little Rock Nine 1957, where Eisenhower dispatched 1,000 paratroopers and federalized 10,000 Arkansas National Guard troops to protect nine student from an angry and violent mob of 1,000 protesters. In conclusion Brown was not simply a basic thrust of the Court’s since the 1940’s, Brown pressured the government to actively take a stance for desegregation resulting in national empowering of the black community to protest.
A fundamental motivating factor for the civil rights movement was the pivotal role nationally that the Church had in educating and coordinating the mass mobilization of protects. This is contested by Payne argues that the history of civil rights activism was a grass roots organisation in poor rural areas, contesting the wealth of historians who place a greater focus on national leaders. Payne views are clearly challenged by Morris who expresses the churches’ institutions role in interpret social reality therefore refocusing the cultural content of these institutions resulted in changes in social attitudes and the resurgence of mass mobilization of protest movements.
Firstly Payne expressed that “In much of the rural South, the church as an institution, became involved even more gradually, only after much efforts by organizers.” This aspect is clearly supported by King’s involvement in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, where the NACCP appointed him as the leader later in the process, as he moved to Montgomery, Alabama in 1954. The most iconic national leaders who used the churches role in the black community to motivate thousands was King. Hence it is unjust to say King was simply a figurehead or was not pivotal to the activism of the civil rights movement. This is demonstrated by his background, both his father and grandfather were leaders of the Atlanta branch of the NACCP, and established the Ebenezer Baptist Church as one of Atlanta’s prominent African American Churches. This highlights how since the 1900s the relationship between religion and the Civil Rights Movement was crucial to the spreading of the civil rights message and coordinating activism, hence to say that the Church “became involved even more gradually, only after much efforts by organizers” is erroneous, as the church was involved since the start of the NACCP in 1909.
Therefore, how could it be gradually involved when it was pivotal in spreading and educating the black community nationally on the civil rights movement since the 1910s, through the African-American social gospel tradition. This is supported by Morris who expresses the churches’ institutions “primary purpose is to interpret social reality and make moral pronouncements regarding the ‘right’ relationships for people with the world around them,” refocusing the cultural content of these institutions resulted in changes in social attitudes. King learned from his role as leader of the Montgomery bus boycott to gradually forge distinctive protest strategies, that involved mass mobilization of the churches influence and skilful appeals for white support. This can be seen in the ‘March on Washington for jobs and freedom’, August 28th 1963 where 250,000 people gather and 3,000 members of the press report. Civil rights leaders such as King, leaders from the NACCP and SNCC and the Kennedy administration, coordinated the march.
In conclusion the Church was the most significant motivating factor in educating and empowered the black community to be involved in the civil rights activism nationally, through refocusing the cultural content that brought a shift attitudes for pro civil rights activism. The church was influential in coordinating the national protest that characterised the civil rights movement of the 1960s and enabling the Civil Rights movement to be divisive in changing the political agenda and law.