From the Grassroots to the Supreme Court

Brown v. Board of Education and American Democracy

From the Grassroots to the Supreme Court

Constitutional Conflicts

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Book Pages: 432 Illustrations: Published: December 2004

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, History > U.S. History, Law > Legal History

Perhaps more than any other Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 decision declaring the segregation of public schools unconstitutional, highlighted both the possibilities and the limitations of American democracy. This collection of sixteen original essays by historians and legal scholars takes the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of Brown to reconsider the history and legacy of that landmark decision. From the Grassroots to the Supreme Court juxtaposes oral histories and legal analysis to provide a nuanced look at how men and women understood Brown and sought to make the decision meaningful in their own lives.

The contributors illuminate the breadth of developments that led to Brown, from the parallel struggles for social justice among African Americans in the South and Mexican, Asian, and Native Americans in the West during the late nineteenth century to the political and legal strategies implemented by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (naacp) in the twentieth century. Describing the decision’s impact on local communities, essayists explore the conflict among African Americans over the implementation of Brown in Atlanta’s public schools as well as understandings of the ruling and its relevance among Puerto Rican migrants in New York City. Assessing the legacy of Brown today, contributors analyze its influence on contemporary law, African American thought, and educational opportunities for minority children.

Tomiko Brown-Nagin
Davison M. Douglas
Raymond Gavins
Laurie B. Green
Christina Greene
Blair L. M. Kelley
Michael J. Klarman
Peter F. Lau
Madeleine E. Lopez
Waldo E. Martin Jr.
Vicki L. Ruiz
Christopher Schmidt
Larissa M. Smith
Patricia Sullivan
Kara Miles Turner
Mark V. Tushnet


“[T]he book offers a great deal for students of the civil rights era. The collection reflects emerging trends in the historiography of the era, including gender, class, rural-urban relationships, and intraracial differences. Its wide variety of topics will please individuals with different research and personal interests, and yet the central focus on Brown unites them analytically. Importantly, the collection contains few errors, and its chapters are well researched.” — Brian Daugherity , Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

“[T]his collection convincingly challenges any easy assumption that the civil rights story progressed in a straight line, or even a single line. . . . From the Grassroots to the Supreme Court offers a picture of the civil rights revolution that is appropriately diverse and complex. Advanced undergraduates and graduate students will appreciate its complications of the familiar narrative, while even specialists will discover something new.” — Kevin M. Kruse , Journal of Southern History

“[T]his volume is a solid addition to the literature ranking…as one of the best anthologies published in these years of commemoration and reflection.” — Michael Fultz , Journal of African American History

“All of the essays have something to offer the scholar whose work covers this field and will certainly enhance the understanding of more casual readers of civil rights history. . . . This is a fine collection of essays. . . .” — Mary Waalkes , North Carolina Historical Review

“Lau has put together a fine book that increases our understanding of Brown.” — Robert J. Cottrol , Journal of American History

From the Grassroots to the Supreme Court combines well-crafted accounts that are both top-down and bottom-up (sometimes within the same essay). This intellectually stimulating approach generates unanticipated synergies, new ways of understanding the persisting struggle for racial justice.” — David L. Kirp, author of Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education

“This book does a wonderful job of bringing history to life by revealing the human stories behind the Supreme Court’s famous decision. Each contribution offers a rich and textured picture of how Brown touched individual lives, prompting hope, fear, courage, and despair.” — Rachel F. Moran, author of Interracial Intimacy: The Regulation of Race and Romance


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Peter F. Lau is an independent scholar who earned his doctorate in history from Rutgers University. He has taught at Rutgers and the University of Rhode Island. Currently he is teaching history at Lincoln School in Providence, Rhode Island.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction / Peter F. Lau 1

Part I: Historical Contexts: Views from the Grassroots

Plessy and Early Challenges to the Doctrine of “Separate, but Equal” / Blair L. M. Kelley 19

Tapestries of Resistance: Episodes of School Segregation and Desegregation in the Western United States / Vicki L. Ruiz 44

Within the Shadow of Jim Crow: Black Struggles for Education and Liberation in North Carolina / Raymond Gavins 68

“Liberating Lifescripts”: Price Edward County, Virginia, and the Roots of Brown v. Board of Education / Kara Miles Turner 88

From the Periphery to the Center: Clarendon County, South Carolina, Brown, and the Struggle for Democracy and Equality in America / Peter F. Lau 105

Part II: Advocates, Judges, and the Making of Brown

A Civil Rights Vanguard: Black Attorneys and the NAACP in Virginia / Larissa M. Smith 129

Prelude to Brown: Education and the Struggle for Racial Justice during the NAACP’s Formative Decades, 1909-1934 / Patricia Sullivan 154

J. Waties Waring and the Making of Liberal Jurisprudence in Postwar America / Christopher W. Schmidt 173

Brown v. Board of Education: Law of Politics? / Michael J. Klarman 198

Part III: Historical Impact: Views from the Grassroots

The Impact of Lawyer-Client Disengagement on the NAACP’s Campaign to Implement Brown v. Board of Education in Atlanta / Tomiko Brown-Nagin 227

“The New Negro Ain’t Scared No More!”: Black Women’s Activism in North Carolina and the Meaning of Brown / Christina Greene 245

The Rural-Urban Matrix in the 1950s South: Rethinking Racial Struggles in Memphis / Laurie B. Green 270

New York, Puerto Ricans, and the Dilemmas of Integration / Madeleine E. Lopez 300

Part IV: Life, Law, and Culture in Post-Brown America

“Stretching Out”: Living and Remembering Brown , 1945-1970 / Waldo E. Martin Jr. 321

The Supreme Court’s Two Principles of Equality, From Brown to 2003 / Mark V. Tushnet 340

Brown v. Board of Education and its Impact on Black Education in America / Davison M. Douglas 361

Conclusion: Brown and Historical Memory / Peter F. Lau 383

Bibliography 387

Notes on the Contributors 391

Index 395
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3449-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3475-0
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