What Came After Brown v Board Of Education
The desegregation of public education is generally viewed through the narrow lens of Thurgood Marshall taking his case to the Supreme Court with the aid of social science explaining how segregated schools promote a sense of inferiority in black students. A more expansive, and interesting, history of the struggle to desegregate schools includes the politics of state and local governments of the period, the machinations of local school boards and the long history before and after Brown v Board of Education.
58 Lonely Men is an important addition to all the particulars of the legacy of education inequality in America. The title sets the focus on federal judges who were responsible for determining how the Supreme Courts decision outlawing segregated schools was to be remedied. The author gives a thorough overview of the backgrounds of many of the judges, who themselves were generally segregationist, and how they were given the responsibility of balancing the conflicting interests of the local school boards and the NAACP lawyers.
Federal judges were generally appointed, in part, based on their personal politics, family background and ties to the community in which they would be working. This was particularly important for appointment to the southern states as judges had to abide by the cultural norms of southern society and their senators, who dominated the senate judiciary committee. Like much of the federal legislation during this period, judicial appointments were tainted with racism as a matter of principle.
The Roll Of District And Appeals Courts
There is a consensus that the Warren Court’s mistake was not being declarative in their opinion that desegregation had to be ended immediately. This was apparently done due to the entrenchment of racial segregation in the southern states, making immediate compliance impossible. But handing the job to fashion a uniform plan of desegregation to avowed segregationist judges created a tortuous experience where state and local officials strategized to create plans that would cause compliance to take several years or never at all. Peltason documents the southern legislatures creating new laws to delay desegregation and local boards of education would changes the rules midstream, to delay any meaningful action. Dwight Eisenhower appointed Warren as chief justice but regretted the decision in large part because of Warren’s decision in Brown v Board of Education. The author of Eisenhower vs Warren: The Battle For Civil Rights And Liberties, James F. Simon, quotes President Eisenhower as saying that he regretted nominating Earl Warren to become chief justice of the Supreme Court because of his position on school desegregation. Peltason quotes one segregationist as saying “As long as we can legislate, we can segregate.”
The author offers thorough profiles of individual actors in the school desegregation cause. Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, a noted civil rights advocate in Birmingham, Alabama, attempts to enroll his daughters in the closest school to their home and is beaten and has his home bombed in the process. And Autherine Lucy, whose attempt to enroll as a graduate student at the University of Alabama, causes a riot by white students. Several conspirators, like Governor Orval Faubus, of Arkansas, are highlighted in detail showing how intimidation and subterfuge were tools to thwart desegregation efforts. And in the end Peltason explains how school systems organized to close public schools and open private academies for white children only, leaving black children with few alternatives.
By focusing on the attitudes and processes of southern district and appeals court justices 58 Lonely Men gives a very thorough account of the varied interests in the desegregation effort. While the accounts given focus on how desegregation efforts played out only in southern states, where entrenched opposition was most prevalent, it is a useful addition to anyone wanting a more thorough understanding of the history of school desegregation. For anyone interested in the details of Brown v Board of Education, this is a valuable resource.