BROWN v. BOARD OF EDUCATION (1954)
347 U.S. 483
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.
These cases come to us from the States of Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and
Delaware. They are premised on different facts and different local conditions, but a
common legal question justifies their consideration together in this consolidated opinion.
[347 U.S. 483, 487]
In each of the cases, minors of the Negro race, through their legal representatives, seek
the aid of the courts in obtaining admission to the public schools of their community on a
nonsegregated basis. In each instance,
[347 U.S. 483, 488]
they had been denied admission
to schools attended by white children under laws requiring or permitting segregation
according to race. This segregation was alleged to deprive the plaintiffs of the equal
protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment. In each of the cases other than
the Delaware case, a three-judge federal district court denied relief to the plaintiffs on the
so-called "separate but equal" doctrine announced by this Court in Plessy v. Ferguson,
163 U.S. 537
. Under that doctrine, equality of treatment is accorded when the races are
provided substantially equal facilities, even though these facilities be separate. In the
Delaware case, the Supreme Court of Delaware adhered to that doctrine, but ordered that
the plaintiffs be admitted to the white schools because of their superiority to the Negro
The plaintiffs contend that segregated public schools are not "equal" and cannot be made
"equal," and that hence they are deprived of the equal protection of the laws. Because of
the obvious importance of the question presented, the Court took jurisdiction.
Argument was heard in the 1952 Term, and reargument was heard this Term on certain
questions propounded by the Court.
[347 U.S. 483, 489]
Reargument was largely devoted to the circumstances surrounding the adoption of the
Fourteenth Amendment in 1868. It covered exhaustively consideration of the
Amendment in Congress, ratification by the states, then existing practices in racial
segregation, and the views of proponents and opponents of the Amendment. This
discussion and our own investigation convince us that, although these sources cast some
light, it is not enough to resolve the problem with which we are faced. At best, they are
inconclusive. The most avid proponents of the post-War Amendments undoubtedly
intended them to remove all legal distinctions among "all persons born or naturalized in
the United States." Their opponents, just as certainly, were antagonistic to both the letter
and the spirit of the Amendments and wished them to have the most limited effect. What
others in Congress and the state legislatures had in mind cannot be determined with any
degree of certainty.
An additional reason for the inconclusive nature of the Amendment's history, with respect