Brown V. Board of Education at 50

Columbia Commemorates the 50th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

By James Vescovi and Rebecca Thomas

In 1950, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated segregation in state law schools with the ruling in Sweatt v. Painter. While many U.S. law schools, including Columbia, had allowed black student enrollment decades earlier, state-imposed racial segregation in public and secondary schools was a fact of life in much of the nation.

That same year, the NAACP's Legal Defense and Educational Fund took on five seminal cases that would come to be known as the School Segregation cases and all of which have become known as Brown vs. Board of Education. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1954 decision that declared the doctrine of "separate but equal" unconstitutional, led to an expansion in educational, economic, and political opportunities for African-Americans, and altered the expectations of how the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution could change American social structure.

This special section highlights this landmark Supreme Court case, its historical connection to Columbia Law School, and describes a series of Law School events that commemorated the case, studied its effects, and addressed the future of race in America.

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Some of the lawyers who argued Brown v. Board of Education
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Facts From the BVB Era

The term Jim Crow originated in a song performed by Daddy Rice, a white minstrel show entertainer who performed in the 1830s. The singer covered his face with charcoal paste or burnt cork to resemble a black man, and then sang and danced a routine in caricature of a Southern black slave. How the term became synonymous with the segregation of blacks in the late 19th century is unclear, but it gradually was identified with those laws and social mores that deprived African-Americans of their civil rights.

Click to read more interesting facts about the Brown V. Board of Education era.

Jim Crow

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Brown v. Board of Education: Opposing Views

In the 50 years since Brown v. Board was decided, discussion over the case has not abated. Were the rulings in the school cases an abuse of judicial power or judicial redress in the face of segregationist lawmakers? Was Brown a considerable legal triumph or the most over-glorified Supreme Court decision in American history?

The Columbia Law School Report invited two civil rights experts to answer questions about the case. They are Professor Jack Greenberg '48, and Lino Graglia '54, the A. Dalton Cross Professor in Law at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of Disaster by Decree: The Supreme Court Decisions on Race and the Schools (Cornell, 1976)

Click here to go to the interview.


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Columbians Who Played a Role in Brown v. Board of Education

Jack Greenberg '48, Hon. Robert Carter '41 LL.M., Hon. Constance Baker Motley '46, Hon. Jack Weinstein '48, and Prof. Charles Black are all Columbians who played a role in Brown v. Board of Education.

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Jack Greenberg '48

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The Spring Semester of Brown v. Board Events at Columbia Law School

The inaugural event commemorating Brown v. Board opened with a welcome from Mrs. Thurgood Marshall and Elaine Jones, former president of the LDF. The event, held on February 2, was titled "The Lawyers Who Argued Brown v. Board" and began with an address by Hon. Robert L. Carter '41 LL.M. (sitting right), who argued Brown before the Supreme Court and provided an evaluation of the case. Commentary was provided by Professor Jack Greenberg '48 (standing right), who argued Gebhardt v. Belton, and Oliver Hill, who argued David v. School Board (Prince Edward County). Also participating were Hon. Constance Baker Motley '46, Hon. Louis Pollack, Hon. Jack Weinstein '48 (sitting left), and William T. Coleman (standing left), who worked on the briefs of cases that were part of Brown.

Click here to see photos from the events.

Photo: Dustin Ross
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Report from Iraq: Columbians Serve in a Variety of Roles

The sone of Iraqi immigrants, Haider Hamoudi '96 arrived in Iraq in July 2003 with the aim of establishing a law firm to provide domestic legal expertise to foreign investors. He quickly decided that this project was premature. The uncertain and dangerous conditions in parts of Iraq have discouraged foreign investors from entering the country.

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Insult to Injury: Libel, slander, and Invasions of Privacy

In this book, William K. Jones, the Charles Evans Hughes Professor Emeritus of Law, reviews the seminal U.S. Supreme Court decisions that restrict the First Amendment in order to protect persons against defamatory falsehoods, invasions of privacy, and related psychic harm. Covering cases ranging from a restaurant owner driven out of business over a veal chop to a University of Georgia football coach accused of sharing plays with an opponent before a game, Prof. Jones examines the many subtleties of the law, its interpretation, and its restrictions. While accommodations struck by the courts are appropriate, Prof. Jones nevertheless argues that serious deficiencies exist in the complex legal edifice that has been erected. He recommends a comprehensive new framework for dealing with the problem of defamatory falsehoods—a framework designed to afford greater protection for expressions on public issues while also providing more meaningful relief to the victims of harmful speech. Insult to Injury, which also contains material covering the impact of the Internet and related electronic means of expression, is of vital interest to lawyers, law students, and journalists.

Click here to read Jones' Essay adapted from the book.

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