From The Archives: ADL’s Involvement In Brown v. Board

  • May 14, 2014

Saturday, May 17th marks the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that ruled racially segregated public schools “inherently unequal” and ordered the desegregation of America’s public schools. 


Acting on its mandate “to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination,” in October 1952 ADL’s National Commission resolved to encourage federal and state legislators “to support legislation to insure the greatest possible protection of civil rights and equality of opportunity for all in the fundamental fields of employment, education and housing.”

The next month, ADL filed an amicus brief in Brown, arguing that because African American children were “disadvantaged by the segregated public school system of Topeka” the Court should “disavow the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine as it has been applied to public educational institutions.”

ADL’s brief noted a lower court’s finding that segregation “irreparably damages the child,” and argued that “that which is unequal in fact cannot be equal in law.” The brief’s final argument read:

Legally imposed segregation in our country, in any shape, manner or form, weakens our program to build and strengthen world democracy and combat totalitarianism. In education, at the lower levels, it indelibly fixes anti-social attitudes and behavior patterns by building inter-group antagonisms. It forces a sense of limitation upon the child and destroys incentive. It produces feelings of inferiority and discourages racial self-appreciation.

Today, ADL continues to combat discrimination in schools and advocate for education equity. On its 60th anniversary, we recognize the Brown decision as a monumental leap forward in the ongoing fight for equal education.

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