The protest against segregation began early in the twentieth century, not long after the Supreme Court's 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. The fight was led by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons ("NAACP"), which was founded in 1909 by a group of black activists and white progressives. After years of lobbying, organizing local chapters, and engaging in other activities, the NAACP shifted its direction. In the early 1930s, the organization embarked on a long-range, carefully coordinated litigation campaign that challenged the laws that enforced segregation. During the years that followed, a legal revolution was set into motion that altered the foundations of American jurisprudence. The NAACP's litigation campaign is not as well remembered as the grassroots demonstrations of the 1960s, but the culminating event of that phase of the Civil Rights movement, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, is celebrated as the most significant Supreme Court decision of modern legal history. The decision in Brown was the first of a series of decisions that struck down Jim Crow laws and paved the way for the federal Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s. ...
The significance of the decision in Brown is well-documented, but it cannot be fully appreciated without an examination of the cases that led to it. This Article explores the evolution of the legal strategy that was used in the graduate and professional school cases that set the stage for Brown. Part II examines Charles Houston's tenure at Howard Law School. During those years Houston transformed that institution from a marginal night school to a fully accredited, first-rate institution. Under Houston's leadership, students at Howard were trained to structure the test cases that challenged the laws that provided the basis for segregation. Part III examines the significance of the Margold Report, a study that was commissioned by the NAACP's Board of Directors in the early 1930s. The report contained a detailed examination of the "separate but equal doctrine" of Plessy v. Ferguson and suggested ways in which the policy might be challenged in the courts.
After Houston was selected to head the NAACP's litigation campaign in 1935, he modified the Margold Report's recommendations and developed what became the "equalization strategy." This approach involved filing cases in Southern states, demanding that the educational resources made available for African-American students be upgraded to make them equal to those provided for whites. Carefully remaining within the confines of Plessy, the "equalization" cases were premised on the theory that the states that practiced segregation could not afford the expense of maintaining separate educational systems that were actually equal. As Part IV of this Article explains, these early cases focused on graduate and professional schools, the area in which the Southern states were most vulnerable. In a series of cases in Maryland, Missouri, Texas, and Oklahoma, the NAACP's lawyers were able to chip away the foundation of segregation. By the early 1950s the Plessy rationale had been completely undermined. This Article demonstrates that, without these efforts, the decision in Brown would not have been possible.
Ware, Leland B.
"LEAD ARTICLE - Setting the Stage for Brown: The Development and Implementation of the NAACP's School Desegregation Campaign, 1930-1950,"
Mercer Law Review: Vol. 52:
2, Article 5.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.mercer.edu/jour_mlr/vol52/iss2/5