Timeline: Road To Brown Decision

May 16, 2004

1857: The Dred Scott decision, written by Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney of Maryland, rules that black people cannot be U.S. citizens and have "no rights which the white man was bound to respect."

1865: After the Civil War, Southern state governments start establishing Black Codes, restricting the rights of freed blacks.

1866: The Civil Rights Act of 1866 gives blacks basic economic rights such as to enter into contracts and to own property.

1868: Blacks are made citizens with ratification of the 14th Amendment.

1875: The Civil Rights Act of 1875 is the first attempt by the federal government to ban discrimination in public accommodations.

1883: The U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Civil Rights Act of 1875 in a ruling that says the 14th Amendment does not apply to private individuals or businesses.

1887: Florida passes the first Jim Crow laws, and other Southern states follow with similar laws mandating segregation.

1896: In Plessy vs. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the "separate but equal" doctrine providing the legal basis for segregation.

1909: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is founded.

1936: The first black student is admitted to the University of Maryland's law school after the state's high court rules that there is no publicly supported law school for blacks. The case is a victory for NAACP attorney Charles Hamilton Houston and his protege, Thurgood Marshall of Baltimore.

1937: In Willams vs. Zimmerman, Marshall fails to get Maryland state courts to order Baltimore County to admit a black student, Margaret Williams, to Catonsville High School.

1938: Houston and Marshall score a victory when the U.S. Supreme Court rules that Missouri must admit a black student to its law school because there was no equal facility for blacks within the state.

1939: Marshall succeeds Houston as the NAACP's chief counsel.

1948: In another law school case, Sipuel vs. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma, the Supreme Court rules that a black woman could not be denied admission solely because of her race.

1949: The first of the cases that would result in the Brown decision takes shape as Marshall meets with Clarendon County, S.C., residents who are seeking school buses for black schools; 20 plaintiffs agree to sue the school board in Briggs vs. Elliott.

1950: The Supreme Court makes two significant rulings. In Sweatt vs. Painter, argued by Marshall, the court finds that the University of Texas law school must admit a black student because a hastily assembled basement law school was not an equal facility. The high court also rules that the University of Oklahoma could not make a black graduate student - admitted to a program unavailable in black schools - sit in separate areas of classrooms, the library or the cafeteria.

1950: Bolling vs. Sharpe, the second of the cases that would become part of Brown, is filed by a group of black students seeking admission to a Washington, D.C., junior high.

1951: The three other cases that would be part of the Brown decision are filed: Belton (Bulah) vs. Gebhart, seeking desegregation in Delaware; Davis vs. the County School Board of Prince Edward County, Va.; and the one that would give its name to the decision, Brown vs. Board of Education, challenging the segregation of schools in Topeka, Kan.

1952: The U.S. Supreme Court hears the first round of arguments in the Brown cases. Marshall is the lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

1953: Chief Justice Fred Moore Vinson dies unexpectedly and is replaced by Gov. Earl Warren of California.

1954: Overturning Plessy vs. Ferguson, the Supreme Court rules in Brown vs. Board of Education that segregated schools violate the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. In a separate ruling in Bolling vs. Sharpe, the court finds segregated schools in the District of Columbia violate the Fifth Amendment's due process clause.

1955: The Supreme Court hears arguments on remedies for the Brown vs. Board of Education cases and rules that desegregation should proceed "with all deliberate speed."

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