Who Argued Brown v. Board of Education?

Many people mistakenly believe that Thurgood Marshall argued Brown v. Board of Education. However, it was actually Spottswood W. Robinson III who argued the case.

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Thurgood Marshall

Before serving on the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall was the chief lawyer for the NAACP. He argued several cases before the Supreme Court, including Brown v. Board of Education. This case overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine that had been established by the Plessy v. Ferguson case.

Early Life

Thurgood Marshall was born in Baltimore, Maryland on July 2, 1908. He was the great-grandson of a slave, and the son of a railroad porter and a schoolteacher. As a young man, he worked as a waiter, janitor, and chauffeur before attending college.

In 1930, Marshall graduated from Lincoln University in Chester County, Pennsylvania. He then attended Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C., where he graduated first in his class in 1933. After working for a short time as an insurance broker in Baltimore, he became a law clerk for civil rights attorney Charles Hamilton Houston.

After working for a few years as a private attorney, Marshall joined the NAACP’s legal team in 1936. He became the chief counsel of the NAACP in 1938, a position he would hold for almost 30 years. As chief counsel, Marshall argued several cases before the Supreme Court, most notably Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954). This case overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine established by the Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), and helped to bring an end to racial segregation in public schools. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Marshall to the Supreme Court, making him the first African American to serve on the nation’s highest court.

Brown v. Board of Education

Marshall argued Brown v. Board of Education, the case that ended racial segregation in American public schools, before the Supreme Court in December 1952. A little over a year later, on May 17, 1954, the Court issued its unanimous decision in favor of Marshall’s clients, the parents of black children in Topeka, Kansas who were required by state law to attend all-black schools. The decision overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine established by the Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson and paved the way for integration of public schools throughout the country.

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Oliver Brown

Oliver brown was the father of Linda, who was one of the students who were denied admission to the all-white school in Topeka, Kansas. Brown was one of the plaintiffs in the case, Brown v. Board of Education. This case was later overturned, which resulted in the desegregation of public schools in the United States.

Early Life

Oliver Brown was born on September 23, 1918, in Kansas. His family were sharecroppers who struggled to make ends meet. When Oliver was eight years old, he had to drop out of school so that he could help support his family.

Despite this early setback, Oliver was determined to get an education. He eventually earned his GED and went on to attend Washburn University. In 1951, he graduated with a degree in sociology.

Involvement in Brown v. Board of Education

Oliver Brown was one of the 13 plaintiffs in the Brown v. Board of Education case. He was the father of Linda Brown, a third-grader who had to travel almost an hour every day to attend an all-black school even though a white school was only seven blocks from her home.

Brown’s involvement in the case began when he saw a notice in the newspaper about a lawsuit that claimed that Topeka, Kansas’ segregation laws were unconstitutional. He contacted the NAACP and asked if his daughter could be a part of the case.

The case was originally filed as four separate lawsuits that were later consolidated into one. In addition to Oliver Brown, there were 12 other plaintiffs, including George E. Cgglesby and Richard Henry Morgan, who were also fathers of children who had to travel long distances to attend all-black schools; Darlene Brown, a high school student who was denied admission to an all-white high school; Amelia E. Boynton and Charles E. Scott, who were denied the right to vote; and Sarah Elizabeth Raymond, Alberta Kinder, Heman Marion Sweatt, John Albert Williams Jr., Sadie Emmanuel Tate Alexander, and Lucinda Todd Williams (the wives of Cgglesby, Morgan, Scott, Boynton, and Tate), all of whom were denied admission to graduate programs at state universities because of their race.

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The Other Plaintiffs

Although many people know that Thurgood Marshall argued Brown v. Board of Education, few know that there were thirteen other plaintiffs in the case. This case was not simply about one man and his experience in Topeka, Kansas. It was about the lived experiences of black children across the United States who were segregated in schools simply because of their race.

Early Life

Oliver Brown was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1918. He was the father of nine children, including daughter Linda Brown, who was at the center of the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education. A welder by trade, Oliver Brown was also an ordained minister and an active member of the Topeka community. He died in 1961.

Involvement in Brown v. Board of Education

In the classic 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that “separate but equal” public schools were unconstitutional. The case began when the parents of black children in Topeka, Kansas sued the city’s school district for refusing to enroll their children in the city’s white schools. But the plaintiffs were not alone in their fight against school segregation. Several other lawsuits challenging segregation were working their way through the courts at the same time as Brown v. Board, and each one helped contribute to the eventual decision in Brown.

The first of these lawsuits was Briggs v. Elliott, filed in 1951 on behalf of black students in Clarendon County, South Carolina. Like the plaintiffs in Brown, the Briggs plaintiffs argued that segregated schools were “inherently unequal” and violated their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The case made its way to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of South Carolina, which ruled against the plaintiffs in 1952.

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The next year, a similar lawsuit was filed in Baltimore, Maryland. In Davis v. Prince Edward County School Board, African American parents argued that segregated schools violated their children’s right to “equal protection of laws.” The case made its way to federal district court, which also ruled against the plaintiffs.

Meanwhile, a third lawsuit was making its way through federal court in Delaware. In Gebhart v. Belton, African American students argued that they should be allowed to attend an all-white high school near Wilmington instead of being forced to travel miles away to a segregated black high school. In 1952, a three-judge panel ruled against the plaintiffs, but they appealed to the U.S Supreme Court.

In May 1953, Chief Justice Fred Vinson died suddenly and was replaced by Earl Warren: a former governor of California and a strong supporter of civil rights (he would later become known as “the Great Equalizer”). With Warren as Chief Justice, things began to move quickly on desegregation cases before the Supreme Court: In November 1953, oral arguments were heard in both Davis and Gebhart; and in December 1953 arguments were heard in Brown itself (along with two other cases challenging segregation in graduate schools). A month later, Chief Justice Warren announced that he was consolidating all four cases into one: Brown v Board of Education

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