On this day in 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. Except that it failed to explain how quickly and in what manner desegregation was to take place. This was no small omission. Imagine the white American South as a pimply adolescent, by turns defiant and pouty. You wag your finger and say, as did Mr. Chief Justice Warren, “that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.”
Which is only fair, you insist, looking your kid square in the eye.
“Fine!” White American South says, arms crossed.
“So you’re going to integrate, right?”
“Come on now. Don’t force my hand here, White American South. For once, just do as I—”
“What’s my deadline?”
“Yeah. What’s my deadline?”
At which point you look around anxiously for your spouse, who has suddenly needed to leave the room for some unexplained reason.
“You know what?” White American South says, suddenly confident. “Screw public education!”
And so Massive Resistance was born.
A version of this post was originally published on May 17, 2011.
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IMAGE: Civil rights march on Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963