Was Brown V. Board of Education Correctly Decided?


This question has become a standard one asked of nominees to the Supreme Court and Federal Judgeships to assure onlookers that if confirmed, the Judge/Justice will be fair to members without regard to race. The standard answer used to be, “Of course, it’s a landmark decision declaring segregation was Unconstitutional.” Now, the answer has become something like, “It would be inappropriate for me to comment on a matter which might come before the Court. That’s the kind of answer Wendy Vitter gave today during her confirmation hearing. She needn’t have worried about anything she said. Senate Republicans confirmed her anyway. She’s also given speeches saying abortion causes cancer and Planned Parenthood kills 150,000 women a year so there’s that.

A cynic might suggest that reply is a wink and a nod to those who support segregation and would like to see it return even faster than it already is. I suspect that no one will ever give the correct answer. That while Brown V. Board could not help but declare segregation Unconstitutional, the decision which called for its decision to be implemented, “With all deliberate speed,” made the decision not a landmark one but one of the weakest of all-time, in some cases almost useless.

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court made equal opportunity in education the law of the land. But it was a law without teeth or a timeframe. The immediate impact after the cheering subsided was almost nothing. Most schools, particularly in the South, continued to be segregated. Receiving resources separately but decidedly not equally for decades while nothing happened. Ultimately, the Federal Government had to step in and issue desegregation orders to force school districts to comply. These were typically dropped over time if districts agreed to Consent Decrees and monitoring until they demonstrated compliance. In Tuscon, AZ a desegregation case was filed in 1974. Twenty years after Brown v. Board. In 1976 the Federal Government intervened but it wasn’t until 2013 that a Consent Decree was reached to provide equality for African American and Native American students. As you might imagine, the Trump Administration cut staffing for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department and is looking to see how many of the 170 Consent Decrees that remained when they took control could be eliminated.

We also see the huge push for public funding of Charter Schools let by an Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos who came from the private school industry. Schools, in general, are creeping back to segregation levels not seen since shortly after Brown v. Board was announced. You could make the case that Brown v. Board was not only not correctly decided, but doomed to failure due to the lack of will and funding pushing compliance and the lack of penalty for refusing.

When the case went to the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall argued that “school segregation was a violation of individual rights under the 14th Amendment.” He added, “the only justification for continuing to have separate schools was to keep people who were slaves as near that stage as possible.”

Chief Justice Earl Warren, delivered the unanimous ruling: “We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” He talked a good game, but the words “with all deliberate speed” made them near meaningless.

It’s almost certain at the next confirmation hearing for a Federal Judge or Supreme Court Justice. Someone will pose the question about whether Brown v. Board was decided correctly. It’s a virtual certainty, no one will have the guts to reply, “Hell no,” and go on to explain how the Court undercut what should have been a game-changer. It was still a landmark ruling, one that clearly spoke that Justice is something we talk about and not something we do!

From Thurgood Marshall to Clarence Thomas

I saw the movie “Marshall” on the first day of its widespread release and was assaulted with impressions. I went to a matinee in a dying mall in West Orlando where audiences tend to be mostly black. There were maybe thirty people at this showing, mostly in their 50’s and older, people likely familiar with Marshall at least as a Supreme Court Justice if nothing else.

The movie itself was very entertaining, humorous in parts and revolved around a real trial in Bridgeport, CT where a black man was accused of the rape of a white socialite. My hope is that those who watch the film will not only cheer the heroic Marshall in the film but go on to learn more about the amazing work he and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund did to fight for rights we now take for granted. I want them to read the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Devil In The Grove about the Groveland Boys case in Florida. I wish the film to be a jumping off point to learn more about a history more likely to be whitewashed than brought forward.

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Exiting the movie, I crossed paths with a woman who I recognized from the audience and asked, “How did you enjoy the film?” She said, “I got so mad to think that we went from Thurgood Marshall to Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court.” We talked briefly about  Thurgood Marshall, Clarence Thomas, and Ben Carson and then went our separate ways. I am still pondering how we got from a legal giant to the black Harvey Weinstein whose best quality is to speak little lest he reveals himself a fool.

Thurgood Marshall fought in small courtrooms, mostly in the South and often alone. Sometimes the only hope standing between an innocent man and execution. The NAACP and Marshall only took on cases where they believed defendants to be innocent and their arrests based on race. Marshall risked his life that we all might benefit. His work is his legacy of which we can all be proud.

Clarence Thomas can be noted for his singular lack of legal accomplishments. His greatest skill before his appointment to the Supreme Court seems to be his ability to rise within government bureaucracy, rising to the Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He all but discontinued the practice of filing/joining class action suits, instead focusing on individual cases. He complained all black leaders did was, “bitch, bitch, bitch” about President Reagan instead of working with him. His nomination to the Supreme Court was confirmed by the Senate despite riveting testimony from Anita Hill and written statements from other women. Thomas himself claimed he was a victim of a “high tech lynching” and his biographer said Thomas was being attacked, “because he was black.” As a Justice, he’s a reliable vote to uphold police brutality, voter suppression and the end of Affirmative Action. He’s still best known for charges of sexual harassment, his affinity for porn including his fondness for, “Long Dong Silver.”

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As shown I the film Marshall, Thurgood Marshall sacrificed much in the pursuit of equal justice under the law. He served as the first African-American Supreme Court Justice and will forever be a legal giant. Thomas is an embarrassment, ultimately becoming a barrier to progress instead of an example.

Harry T Moore: Shadow Warrior

“Florida means land of flowers 

It was on a Christmas night.

In the state named for the flowers 

Men came bearing dynamite…

It could not be in Jesus’ name 

Beneath the bedroom floor

On Christmas night the killers 

Hid the bomb for Harry Moore”

Langston Hughes

 

Who was the first martyr of the Civil Rights movement? Martin Luther King? Malcolm X? Medgar Evers? I asked several people outside Florida if they knew who Harry T Moore was and almost all had no clue. I once passed on an opportunity to attend an annual observation at his gravesite, his name and that of his wife Harriette meant nothing to me. I won’t miss next time. The Florida State Conference of the NAACP holds an annual memorial for Harry and Harriette Moore, I’ll update to include the dates when available for any interested in joining me.

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Both Moore’s were teachers in Brevard County, about 45 miles West of Orlando. Harry was active in the NAACP, becoming the Florida Executive Secretary. His weekends and whatever time he could spare was spent fundraising, speaking and soliciting memberships. In 1946, both Moore;s were fired from their teaching jobs of twenty years, due to Harry being labeled a “troublemaker and Negro organizer.” The nearest employment Harry could find as a teacher was in Palm Beach County, two hours to the South. They rented a room in a private home while maintaining the 3-bedroom home Harry had built in Mims, Florida. That home sat in the middle of 11-acres of land, set deep in an Orange Grove.

Years earlier, Harry had sent a letter to the National office of the NAACP, informing them of plans to sue Brevard County Schools for equal pay for black teachers. This got the attention of lawyer Thurgood Marshall who came to Florida several times regarding the case, often staying with the Moore’s as there were few hotels a black man could stay in. Harry Moore was as soft-spoken as Marshall was gregarious yet they made a good pair. To offset his own dry speaking manner, Harry trained his teenaged daughter Evangeline to exhort the crowds after his more stoic message.

Moore became involved in another case with Marshall. One involving four Groveland, FL black men, falsely accused of the rape of a white woman. Moore used this case to raise funds throughout the state and wrote letters, incessantly. He wrote local papers, local politicians, and he wrote the Governor. Florida had more lynchings per capita than any other state and Harry T Moore would not keep quiet, he wouldn’t let it be. He organized protests, conducted mass meetings, and gave speeches. He was a pain in the ass to those who wanted the notoriety to die.

In the “Groveland Four” case, two of the defendants were convicted and sent to the Florida State Prison in Raiford, FL. After Marshall won them a new trial. Sheriff Willis McCall was transporting them back to Groveland when he pulled over, ordered both prisoners out and shot both men, killing one. His deputy pulled up, found one man still living and shot him a second time. The man survived to tell his story. It is of note that the FBI withheld ballistic evidence that would have proven those events but the Sheriff was exonerated and continued his reign of terror another 21 years before losing an election, under investigation for the murder of yet another black prisoner.

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On Christmas night in 1951, Harry and his immediate family had dinner at his brother-in-laws before returning home about 9pm. At 10:20pm, after everyone had settled in their beds, when a bomb placed below Harry and Harriette’s bedroom went off. The children and their grandmother were alright. They found Harry and Harriette in their bedroom covered with debris. The family rushed them to a medical facility in Sanford, FL. Harry’s head bleeding into his mother’s lap.

Harry was declared dead on arrival. Harriette recovered enough to visit her husband’s body at the funeral home, then succumbed herself. She had told an Orlando Sentinel reporter, “There isn’t much left to fight back for” and “My home is wrecked. My children are grown up. They don’t need me. Others can carry on.”

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In his last letter to Governor Fuller Warren, Moore wrote:

“We seek no special favors, but certainly have a right to expect justice and equal protection of the laws even for the humblest Negro. Shall we be disappointed again?”

There was no justice for Harry Moore. The FBI initially closed the case in 1953 and it was reopened multiple times over the years. In 2006, Governor Charlie Crist declared the case solved, blaming four dead Klansmen. He acknowledged having “no new evidence” yet indicated they were the most likely perpetrators. Some believed Sheriff Willis McCall to be behind the bombing but the truth will likely never be known. Between 1951-1952, 40 black homes were bombed throughout the South. Many refused to bow to racist traditions, some were innocent bystanders. Harry T Moore was denied the recognition he deserved in his lifetime and even after his death. He was a true Shadow Warrior.

Each month, Enigma In Black will feature a new Shadow Warrior. We highlight people and organizations doing great work that have yet to receive national recognition. Don’t miss any by following this page.

Please share so that we can bring these Warriors out of the shadows! I’d love to hear your suggestions for future Warriors which you can leave in the comments section.

Past Warriors:

The Dreamers

Zain Jacobs

George Cooper

Aramis Ayala

Dr. Crystal A. deGregory

Kelly Hurst

The Wilson Academy

Sevgi Fernandez