Frank T. Read

Publication Date


Document Type

Special Contribution


On October 1, 1981, the nation's foremost civil rights tribunal will be no more. On that date, the Fifth Circuit Reorganization Act will become effective and the famous United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will be divided into two new circuits.' With the passing of the Fifth Circuit into history's dusty pages, it is appropriate to reflect on the contributions of that court in this nation's monumental struggle to desegregate the public schools of the Deep South.

On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court, in its most important decision in this century, rejected the "separate but equal" doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson, which had been the law since 1896. The Court unanimously held that the segregation of white and Negro children in a state's public schools solely on the basis of race, pursuant to state laws permitting or requiring such segregation, denied to Negro children the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment. With that decision, the Warren Court gained immortality and the nation began its only Bloodless Revolution. It is my view that since the Civil War the most important single event in the internal history of the nation has been the decision in Brown v. Board of Education. At no other time in recorded history, certainly in the history of this nation, have changes of such magnitude in attitudes, societal structure, and law occurred so rapidly without the accompaniment of bloody revolution from within or military force from without. We have had a social revolution since 1954, and that revolution may not yet have run its course. The distinguishing feature of this revolution, rendering it sui generis, is that with few notable exceptions it was accomplished peacefully, highlighted by a majority of the white citizens of the South obeying, even though reluctantly, judicial mandates with which they deeply disagreed.