I. Facts: In four cases decided together, African American students in Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware sought admittance to the public schools in their communities on a non-segregated basis. (Note: A fifth case concerning minority students in WashingtonD.C.was decided separately) Laws existed in these four states that either required or permitted racial segregation. These laws prevented these minority students from gaining admittance to schools attended by white children. The plaintiffs in these cases held 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" guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.
II. Issues: "Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other 'tangible' factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities?"
III. Holding: Yes. The Court placed the case back on the docket upon determining this question so as to allow for arguments as to what actions should be taken in light of this finding.
IV. Reasoning: Although the aspects that can be objectively measured may be equal, segregation of school children creates and inherently unequal situation for the minority students. Separating African American students from "others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone" and deprives "them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system. The Court gives history the benefit of the doubt; it claims that there is new scientific reasoning that proves that separate but equal can no longer stand (p. 901). Given the provocative nature of the case, it is more persuasive not to point fingers. The Court is particuarly careful to deal just with schools in order 1)not to alienate ½ the country 2)in order to get unanimity.V. Concurring and Dissenting Opinions: There were no dissenting or concurring opinions in this case
VI. Significance: The Court held that psychological understanding of the minds of young children at the time discounted the Court's holding in Plessy v. Ferguson and explicitly rejected the precedent set in Plessy, holding that the "separate but equal doctrine" has no place in the public education system. This was a large step in the civil rights movement as the Supreme Court expressly denied the states the right to segregate public schools and in fact required their integration.
"In approaching this problem, we cannot turn the clock back to 1868 when the Amendment was adopted, or even to 1896 when Plessy v. Ferguson was written. We must consider public education in the light of its full development and its present place in American life throughout the Nation. Only in this way can it be determined if segregation in public schools deprives these plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws."