Law Touched Our Hearts
A Generation Remembers Brown v. Board of Education
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: Vanderbilt University Press
Title Page, Copyright
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We invited almost five thousand of our colleagues in law teaching to participate in what we expected would be “an intriguing project that intertwines personal, professional, and written history.” We would not have been able to make that initial contact without the financial and logistical support provided by Dean Robert Scott and the secretarial and mailroom staffs here at the University of Virginia law school....
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In February of 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower invited Chief Justice Earl Warren to dinner at the White House. Among the other guests were well-known opponents of school desegregation, including John W. Davis, the lawyer who had recently presented the states’ argument for upholding segregated schools before the Supreme Court in Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. In his memoirs, Warren notes...
Part I. The Context—Skin Color and Walls
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1. Learning about Skin Color
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I was born in New York City in 1944 and grew up on 145th Street and Riverside Drive. The block between Riverside and Broadway was predominantly white; the block between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue was predominantly Hispanic; Harlem started at Amsterdam Avenue....
2. Segregated Proms in 2003
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Racially segregated high school proms are in the news. The coverage superficially depicts these incidents as vestiges of racism in rural Southern school districts. I moved away from the South over thirty years ago and I know there is far more to the story. There was no media scrutiny of the proms in 1971 when I graduated from Bertie Senior High School in Windsor, North Carolina. No....
3 The Wall
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It was 1957. I was eight years old. My father had just joined the faculty of a Canadian university. He was a professor of anatomy and physiology and a research scientist. He had a wonderful lab at the university, graduate students from around the world, and funding for summer research as well. We spent our first summer in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where he...
4. And the Walls Came Tumblin’ Down
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When Brown was decided, I was a fourth-grade student at Girard College, the free boarding school in center city Philadelphia for “poor, white, male orphans” that became a legal battleground in the integration movement over the fourteen years following Brown. Although persistent litigation ultimately integrated Girard with respect to both race and sex, I spent eleven years behind the ten-foot walls that...
5. The Commutative Property of Arithmetic
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I recall the question precisely: “You mean you disagree with the opinion in Brown versus The Board of Education of Topeka?” And the questioner: my father, who was a scientist, not a lawyer, and would have spoken out the full name of the case, “Brown versus The Board of Education of Topeka.” Not the lawyers’ familiar Brown, or Brown vee Board. The full name. And I recall the person questioned...
Part II. De Jure States and the District of Columbia
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6. Training in Alabama
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In May 1954 I was seven years old, and I had just completed the third grade at the all-black, de jure segregated Baldwin County Training School in Daphne, Alabama. The all-white high schools in rural counties all over the South were named for their counties, for example, Baldwin County High School. The all-black schools were distinguished by...
7. Loss of Innocence
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As you read the dates on the epigraphs, you may think my history is off. It is not. Brown v. Board of Education was decided in 1954. Although I was born after Brown in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1956, I did not attend student-integrated schools until the 1970–1971 academic year, when a mini-busload of about twenty white children began to...
8. Toto, I Have a Feeling We Are Still in Kansas
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Brown v. Board of Education shapes the lives of everyone in this country, even though most people are not aware of the details of the decision. In fact, the lay understanding of Brown probably is limited to knowing that it ended de jure segregation in public schools. While the importance of this cannot be overstated, white society’s enduring attachment to Brown is not so much its holding as what the case has...
9. Becoming a Legal Troublemaker
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I grew up in a society stained by lawlessness. My hometown, Lakeland, Florida, dubbed “Citrus Capital of the World” by local promoters, is situated near the center of Interstate 4, the highway that runs across the midsection of the Sunshine State. As I was born in December 1952, I have no recollection of the Brown I and II decisions when the Warren...
10. Color-Blind in Georgia
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The decision in Brown v. Board of Education, on May 17, 1954, was announced near the end of my freshman year at the University of Georgia. I can well remember the widespread publicity accompanying the decision and its generally favorable reception on the all-white Athens, Georgia, campus. Some vocal students, of course, expressed immediate opposition; but in general most of my friends, including...
11. Taking a Stand
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I finished high school in Atlanta, Georgia, without ever experiencing a day of integrated education, but the case of Brown v. Board of Education had a profound impact on my life. I am a clinical law professor at Vanderbilt Law School. My students and I are often co-counsel in cases seeking rights for children with disabilities...
12. Seeing the Hollow
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In May 1954, I was in tenth grade at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C. There were no blacks among the two thousand students in that school. Insofar as I noticed this fact—and I did, though only fleetingly...
13. A Glen Echo Passage
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I understood, but only vaguely, that I would be attending a new elementary school next year to make room for the colored children from Seven Locks Road at my present school. The year was 1955, and I was just finishing the third grade in Cabin John, Maryland. My teacher mother, I remember, had been pleased—even downright gleeful— upon learning that the Supreme Court...
14. I Can’t Play with You No More
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I was born in Clarksdale, in the Mississippi Delta, in early 1953 and lived in nearby Lyon until I was almost fifteen. My father was a lawyer with clients, mostly paying but otherwise from all walks of life. Although I am told he believed in segregation of the races, I am not aware that he worked for such ends, but since he died in 1963 I have to content myself with hoping that he did not. My cousin tells me...
15. A White Boy from Mississippi
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Like most of the families who lived in the Beacon Street housing project, my family ate its meals around a bright-colored, chrome-edged Formica kitchen table. On Mondays we often ate biscuits with tomato gravy, butter beans, rice, and Sunday’s leftover fried chicken. That probably was the menu on the day that many whites called “Black Monday,” when...
16. A Journey of Conscience
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The year was 1956. The scene was a social studies class in Pascagoula Junior High School in Pascagoula, Mississippi. I was in the seventh grade. Our social studies teacher, Mr. Dunnam, also was a state senator in the Mississippi Legislature. He proudly announced in class one day that the legislature had just voted to repeal the state’s compulsory school attendance law, and he further announced that the...
17. Promise and Paradox
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Monday, May 17, 1954, would have been anticlimactic if I had known then what happened. It came three days after I celebrated my tenth birthday. As I learned much, much later, that day the U.S. Supreme Court announced its great decision in Brown v. Board of Education. It was a day as unremarkable as any other ordinary day...
18. A Different Kind of Education
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The world of my childhood—Charlotte, North Carolina, during the 1960s—was almost exclusively white. All my early childhood friends, whom I met in the neighborhood, school, church, the YMCA, and Boy Scouts, were pretty much like me—white and from a middle-class background. During my grade-school years, I encountered few black people except those who cleaned homes or performed yard...
19. Sacrifice, Opportunity, and the New South
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In 1954, I was enrolled in the fourth grade in the Berkeley County Training School in Moncks Corner, South Carolina. The Berkeley County Training School was the public school that educated all the Negro children, grades one through twelve, who resided in that county. I remember quite clearly...
20. Crossing Invisible Lines
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I was born the year that Brown v. Board of Education mandated that schools desegregate “with all deliberate speed,” yet until I went to college, I never had a class with a person of color, Asian American, or Hispanic. In that first year of college, 1971, I left the South and my hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee, for the first time...
21. Segregation in Memphis
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Among the first wave of baby boomers who arrived after the World War II veterans returned home, I was born during 1946, in Memphis, Tennessee. My father, Alonzo Weaver II, had served in the all-black Ninety-third Signal Company of the U.S. Army. Serving his country with distinction in battles at New Guinea and the Solomon Islands...
22. What I Learned When Massive Resistance Closed My School
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I grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, in the 1950s. With a population of three hundred thousand and a thriving naval base, Norfolk had become the largest city in Virginia. Mine was a typical 1950s upbringing—very quiet and stable, with a Leave-It-to-Beaver flavor. I lived an insular life with a highly predictable routine—walk to school, walk to Hebrew lessons, wait for Mom to pick me up to take me to baseball games and piano lessons, then perhaps to Toastmaster’s Club, Children’s Theater, and so on. (In fact...
23. Standing Up for Brown in Danville
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I was eleven years old when Brown I came down in May 1954. My biggest concerns were girls (I didn’t like them but secretly coveted their attention) and making the majors in Little League baseball (I couldn’t hit, and so knew I would be relegated to the minors). I don’t remember much about my family’s reaction to Brown, except that they thought it was high time for the Court to rule as it had...
24. Urgent Conversations
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I have been thinking about the significance of Brown v. Board of Education for most of my life. I was in the ninth grade at Herndon High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, when Brown was decided. Difficult as it may be to imagine today, that part of Fairfax County—now a populous, high-tech corridor—was then very rural and very Southern. As was the case in most of the rural South, there was little or no residential...
25. Virginia Confronts a “Statesmanlike Decision”
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Williamsburg, Virginia, was not entirely typical of its region in 1955, the year in which I graduated from high school. It was a college town and hence had a larger element of liberal intelligentsia than many otherwise comparable communities had. Since the late 1920s, Williamsburg had been the scene of the Rockefeller-financed restoration of the eighteenth-century colonial capital. This gave the city a strong economic...
26. Brown as Catalyst
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It is well known that some counties in Virginia actively resisted Brown’s mandate to end segregation with “all deliberate speed.” To stereotype Virginia by the resistance of some would be an unfortunate generalization. A sterling example is the city of Hampton, which desegregated public schools in the early to mid-1960s and did so with little fanfare or discernable rancor. Hampton first implemented...
27. Equality and Sorority during the Decade after Brown
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I learned that my elementary school was racially segregated when a television newscaster announced that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled for the petitioners in Brown v. Board of Education. It never occurred to me before May 17, 1954, that there were no white teachers or students at my school. For almost ten years my parents shielded me from the ugly reality of de jure segregation—as Guido Orefice the father in the Italian film Life Is Beautiful, shielded his son from the horrors of Nazism....
28. “What Are You Doing Here?” An Autobiographical Fragment
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I was born in 1947 in Washington, D.C. My parents were strong racial liberals. They refused to attend the National Theater because of its segregated seating policy and would not permit us to go to Glen Echo Amusement Park because it did not admit blacks. I do not remember my parents actually having African American friends...
Part III. De Facto States
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29. Brown’s Ambiguous Legacy
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I was born in 1953—a year before the seminal decision in Brown v. Board of Education. I started my schooling in 1958 as a kindergartner at West Vernon Elementary School in South Central Los Angeles. I was that rarity as a student (or, more accurately, I should say my family was pretty unusual) in that I didn’t move during my first seven...
30. Public Education in Los Angeles: Past and Present
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I was born in New York City, but we moved to Los Angeles when I was a young boy in the mid-1950s. We lived in a dense working-class area in the central part of the city, and I went to the Los Angeles Unified School District public schools. My neighborhood was very diverse, with many different religious groups and racial groups. Overall, the vast majority of kids—white, black, Hispanic, or Asian—went to fairly homogeneous public schools...
31. The Discrete and Insular Majority
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I was born in late 1945 and grew up in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove, Illinois, a town that grew from around ten to twenty thousand people during the seventeen years of my childhood there. There was only one black family in town. The father was the caretaker at a small private school. I didn’t know them but, as far as I was aware, they attended the local schools without (public) incident....
32. Princess in the Tower
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Gearing up for the start of the new school year in 1956 was fun for me as an eight-year-old in southern Ohio, and it was uncomplicated by consciousness of national events. I had no knowledge of the Supreme Court’s rulings during the previous two years in Brown v. Board of Education and certainly no idea that such things were relevant...
33. Shades of Brown
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My sister-in-law Patricia says that Kansas can be thought of in terms of shades of brown—the earth on the ground, the dust in the air, and the burnt grass by the end of the long, hot summer. Thus my first memory of it is the picture of the scorched earth as our family arrived by train from New York City in the small county seat and university town of Lawrence in July of 1948. But my professional memory is of another...
34. Brown Comes to Boston: A Courtside View
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It was the fall of 1973, my third year of law school, and I had just been chosen to be the law clerk for a federal district judge for the 1974–1975 year. When I asked the judge whether there were particular courses that might be helpful for me to put in my spring schedule to prepare for the clerkship, he suggested Antitrust...
35. Checkerboard Segregation in the 1950s
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Rocky, a summertime playmate who lived in the apartment building next door to our turn-of-the-century single-family residence, walked west to Clark Elementary School in the fall of 1953 while I walked east to Washington Elementary School. Rocky was “white” and I was “colored,” in the school district’s lexicon. But other black children in our neighborhood walked north to Saint Mark’s Catholic School...
36. With One Hand Waving Free
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I was eight years old and in fourth grade when Brown v. Board of Education was decided. There were a few black kids in my elementary school in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and I remember being stupefied that this was even an issue in other places. On the other hand, I was politically aware enough, even at that age (my dad was the managing editor of the local paper, and politics was always a topic of dinner...
37. Indirect and Substantial Effect
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There was no segregation by New York state law. Nevertheless, there were voluntary initiatives by the New York City Board of Education to correct segregation on account of city residential patterns. There was no desegregation order against any city school district, but...
38. Brown Goes North
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Growing up in Clifton, a white middle-class neighborhood in Cincinnati, I knew African Americans were different because they had their own name—first “colored people” and later “Negroes.” We were taught never to use the N-word anywhere. My sister, born in 1957, was not taught to call African Americans “colored people,” and she recalls her confusion...
39. The Virtues of Public Education
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Brown had little immediate impact on my own education but has had a profound effect on that of my children. I grew up in a small town in the Pacific Northwest that started its civic life as a lumber company town. It is the home of what during my childhood was the world’s largest pulp mill, operated by Weyerhauser. The founders of the town were Southerners who saw no place for people of color in their mill or in their town. The tiny African American community was unofficially...
40. Entering Another’s Circle
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Although I grew up in Beloit, Wisconsin, far from the notoriously segregated South, I still experienced racial separation as I began first grade, five years after the United States Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown decision. Despite having students from different racial backgrounds, many classrooms in Beloit did not reflect this diversity. Even as a child, I saw adults drawing circles delineating who could enter and who could not, separating whites from “others,” males from females, and those who had a “correct” understanding of God from those who didn’t. About one-third of my schoolmates were...
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Practically all law professors are listed along with their birth years in the Directory of Law Teachers published annually by Thomson West and Foundation Press, Inc. We sought to identify and contact everyone in the legal academy holding an academic title (assistant professor or above) with a birth year between 1936 and 1954. With assistance from the Association of American Law Schools and financial support...
Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2009