***image1***Each year since its establishment in 1957 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Americans have celebrated the first of May as Law Day. Law Day reminds us of the many benefits we enjoy as a people who live under the rule of law. On this year’s Law Day, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended racial segregation in the public school system.
The Brown decision ended the legal doctrine of separate but equal established by the same court nearly 60 years earlier in Plessy v. Ferguson.
In the Plessy decision, the court held that racial segregation was acceptable if separate facilities provided for African-Americans were equal to those provided for whites. Plessy upheld laws in many states that limited African-Americans and other people of color to “separate but equal” public facilities including schools, transportation, residential neighborhoods, theaters, restaurants, and even lavatories and drinking fountains.
In the decades that followed, anti-segregationist lawyers challenged these laws at the state and local level, with limited success. In 1954, with the Brown v. Board of Education decision, anti-segregationist lawyers struck a significant blow against segregation at the Supreme Court level. Brown included appeals from four separate states: Kansas, Delaware, South Carolina, and Virginia. School conditions in each case varied, from stark differences between the “colored” and “white” schools of South Carolina, to a closer parity in the Kansas schools.
In all four states, however, the schools were segregated by law. The appellants argued that real equality could not be achieved until segregation was brought to an end.
Under Chief Justice Earl Warren, a unanimous Court issued the May 17, 1954 decision which declared segregation of the public schools unconstitutional.
Brown was the first note sounded in the eventual death knell of state-sanctioned segregation. It is undoubtedly a towering landmark in the struggle for equality under law for all Americans.
As we celebrate Law Day 2004, I encourage each of you to take a moment to think about the great benefits we enjoy as a people who are equal before the law, and who live under a legal system that allows for positive change; and, further, to contemplate the ongoing struggle to carry forth the inherent rights of liberty and equality to all mankind.
Please join me in celebrating the rule of law, and the continuing commitment of America to the ideal of liberty and equality under the law, this Law Day 2004.