National Association for the Advancement of Colored People: Education Litigation
Prior to Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), the NAACP had set the stage for an attack on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). In Plessy, the Court upheld the notion that states could satisfy the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by providing “separate but equal” public facilities for Black and White citizens. The NAACP first focused on higher education, based on the belief that it would be easier to prove inequality between Black and White graduate higher education programs.
The pre-Brown cases that the NAACP won, such as Sweatt v. Painter (1950) and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (1950), wherein the Supreme Court struck down inter- and intrainstitution segregation, respectively, in higher education, led Thurgood Marshall to believe that the Court would uphold the rights of Blacks to attend desegregated K–12 public schools. In fact, the NAACP’s strategy originated in 1930 when Nathan Margold devised a plan to eliminate school segregation.
The NAACP’s years of planning achieved success in Brown I (1954). In Brown I, the Court reasoned that because separate educational facilities were inherently unequal, they violated the Equal Protection Clause. Ayear later, in Brown II (1955), the justices set a schedule for the lower courts to implement Brown I with “all deliberate speed.” Yet, 10 years after Brown I, only a small percentage of the Black students in the 11 Southern states attended desegregated public schools.