|Date(s):||May 17, 1954 to May 23, 1954|
|Tag(s):||Desegregation, Brown v Board 1954, alabama|
|Course:||“Historian's Craft,” University of Alabama at Birmingham|
|Rating:||5 (4 votes)|
Arguably one of the most influential and groundbreaking decisions handed down by the Supreme Court is the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Overturning the precedent previously set by Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the Court ruled that “separate but equal” was “inherently unequal” in the realm of public education. This ruling came as quite a shock, and was met with tremendous resistance primarily throughout the South. In Alabama, the ruling was met with extreme hostility and immediate plans to circumvent the decision were swiftly conceived.
Immediately following the Court’s ruling, Alabama Representative Henry Beatty devised a scheme for maintaining segregation in the state without violating the recent resolution. Beatty argued that by creating “free schools” in which both whites and blacks were allowed to attend, Alabama could then create segregated, tuition-based schools to provide an alternative to an integrated school system. Beatty furthered this plan by compiling ways to amend Alabama’s Constitution to allow for both free and tuition-based schools while still managing to uphold the Court’s ruling.
A key component of Beatty’s plan involved tuition-based schools as an alternative to free schools. The undisguised intention of this plan was to enable white students to stay in white-only schools by paying a “nominal fee” for the sole purpose of differentiating the school from a free, public school. Any white student demonstrating financial need would have their tuition waived rather than be forced to attend a free, integrated school. Beatty was determined to avoid directly integrating public schools in Alabama; he was not alone in rejecting the Court’s ruling.
Much of the South demonstrated extreme resistance to the Brown ruling, and in the following decade, few efforts throughout the South would be made to integrate public schools. Some historians argue that the Court’s ruling resulted in a “backlash” in the South, and that without the Brown ruling, desegregation would have eventually taken place without the open violence and hostility that followed. Historian Michael J. Klarman argues that prior to Brown, desegregation was already underway, including “desegregation of the Montgomery police force, of elevators in downtown office buildings in Birmingham, [and] of federal juries in Little Rock.” It is possible, given that desegregation was already beginning without federal intervention, that it would have eventually led to a natural desegregation of public schools. With Brown forcing the issue upon the South, a hostile environment was unwittingly created in reaction to the ruling.
Beatty made his intention to prevent desegregation of public schools in Alabama clear, and again he was not alone in this goal. Much of the South rallied against Brown, and it would be a decade before Congress would pass legislation to finally put an end to segregation with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While it is not possible to say with any certainty, it is conceivable that the Court did more harm than good with its ruling in Brown. While the ruling was morally necessary, it created a rallying point for white Southerners to unite against the common cause of desegregation.