The decision was unanimous. Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the opinion of the Court.
. . . Here . . . there are findings below that the Negro and white
schools involved have been equalized, or are being equalized, with
respect to buildings, curricula, qualifications, and salaries of
teachers, and other "tangible" factors. Our decision, therefore, cannot
turn on merely a comparison of these tangible factors in the Negro and
white schools involved in each of these cases. We must look instead to
the effect of segregation itself on public education. . . .
Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and
local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great
expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the
importance of education to our democratic society. . . . Today it is a
principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in
preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to
adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that
any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied
the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state
has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to
all on equal terms. . . .
To separate them [children in grade and high schools] from others of
similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a
feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may
affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely to ever be undone. . . .
Whatever may have been the extent of psychological knowledge at the
time of Plessy v. Ferguson, this finding is amply supported by modern authority. . . .
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 and other
similarly situated . . . are . . . deprived of the equal protection of
the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.
Notes on the Opinion
After the decision in Brown was reached, the Court decided a companion case Bolling v.
Sharpe regarding the same issue of segregation in the District of
Columbia. The Court notes first that although the 14th Amendment
is only applicable to states, the Fifth Amendment is applicable to the
District of Columbia. The Court then held that while the Fifth Amendment
does not contain an equal protection clause it does contain a due
process clause, the concepts both stemming from the American ideal of
fairness, and discrimination can be so unjustifiable it can be deemed
violative of due process.
Questions to Consider
In Chief Justice Warren's opinion, how valuable is education? Why?
What does the Court mean by the "tangible" factors of equality?
Are these tangible factors the only factors the Court considered when
determining whether the 14th Amendment was violated?
According to the Supreme Court of the United States, what
"intangible" factors play a role in whether school facilities are truly
Can you find any weaknesses in the basis of the Court's decision?
What would your school be like if Brown had been decided differently and Plessy had never been reversed? How would education be different for white and African American students?
Do you think that there are still consequences resulting from schools being segregated in the past?