I was born the year the Supreme Court of the United States of America began to hear Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka; a case that ought to be known to all as a matter of US history. Here is a precise, but telling history of how that case came into being. This historical account lacks hyperbole, perhaps because one feature of legal-eeze carries the technical title (and appropriately so) of being a brief.
In case blog readers don’t do background research or follow footnotes, I raise these salient points: The Declaration of Independence states “all men (sic) are created equal.” At the same time as it was written and signed into law, the legal enslavement of Africans was in full practice. This incongruence required further legal action to change that in the form of 13th Amendment to the US Constitution which made slavery illegal.
It should be no surprise that “equality” did not result from this and thus the 14th and 15th Amendments attempted to address inequities in more specific terminology. All of these Amendments were ratified the 19th century.
The last decade of the 19th century, Plessy v. Ferguson reached the Supreme Court. Plessy was an unsuccessful challenge, attempting to point out how manifest inequality– the “separate but equal” doctrine in practice across the United States– violated the constitutional notion of equality before the law. Judge Brown sums up the majority opinion which went against Plessy:
The object of the 14th Amendment was undoubtedly to enforce equality of the two races before the law, but in the nature of things it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to endorse social as distinguished from political, equality..if one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane
It would take more than half a century before Brown v. Board of Education brought out the many subtle ways, over the century since the legal end of slavery, that the racial divide had been enforced. It started very early in life, in the form of separate educational systems that only perpetuated the impossibility of constitutional consistency and equality before the law.
We still have a long way to go. Continue reading “Justice for Mike Brown? by amina wadud”