The Journey from Brown v. Board of Education to Grutter v. Bollinger: From Racial Assimilation to Diversity

Fifty years ago, in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court confronted a precise and straightforward question: “Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other ‘tangible’ factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities?” The Court’s answer was precise and straightforward: “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs … are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.” I was only 13 years old when the Court rendered its judgment in Brown on May 17, 1954. I vaguely recall my mother telling me about Thurgood Marshall having won an important case at the Supreme Court, and I remember seeing his picture in the newspaper the next day. But I did not then understand the enormity of the decision. And it certainly never occurred to me that Brown would precipitate the major changes in race relations that we have seen in the United States over the past 50 years.