Court Cases

Court Case Timeline

Historic U.S. Cases 1690-1993:
An Encyclopedia New York
Copyright 1992 Garland Publishing, New York

1896 – Plessy vs. Ferguson – Plessy, an African American man, was arrested for violating Louisiana’s Law by attempting to sit in an all-white railroad car. He was found guilty on the grounds that the law was a reasonable exercise of the state’s police powers. The court sided with “separate but equal” saying it was constitutional, upholding the “separate but equal” doctrine.

Heman Sweatt in line for registration at the University of Texas in 1950.

Marion Sweatt
Dolph Briscoe Center for American History

  1950 – Sweatt vs. Painter – This court case successfully challenged the decision of Plessy vs. Ferguson and was directly   influential on the Brown vs. Board of Education case a few years later.  The case involved a black man, Heman Marion Sweatt, who was refused admission into the University of Texas’s School of Law.  Continuing for six months, the time length of the court case, allowed Texas officials to create a separate School of Law for African American students, known as Thurgood Marshall School of Law.  Once the case reached the Supreme Court, the quick decision held that the separate school created by the government of the state of Texas failed to qualify secular educational standards because of quantitative differences.

1954 – Brown vs. Board of Education The Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for African American and white students as unconstitutional, and officially overturned the decision by Plessy vs. Ferguson.   As directed by the NAACP leadership, the parents of each student attempted to enroll their children in the all-white school that was closest to them.  They were each refused enrollment and directed to the segregated schools that were many miles further from their home.  The Supreme Court officially integrated these schools and as a result paved the way for future integration.

Photo of white students protesting school integration.

Reproduction courtesy of Corbis Images

1958 – Aaron vs. Cooper – A major decision by the Supreme Court, Aaron vs. Cooper stated that states were required to obey the decision of the Supreme Court even if that state disagreed with it.  Governor of Arkansas directly disobeyed the courts decision when he attempted to disassemble the desegregation program of Little Rock High School that was set up by its school board office.  Officials in the  state of Arkansas mentioned that the program was creating an environment that was hostile to the students and issued a statement to deny access to African American students.  The Supreme Court overturned the state’s decision and forced the school board to continue its program of desegregation.

1964 – Griffin v. County school Board of Prince Edward County– This supreme court case ruled that the country had violated students right to an education and ordered that schools in Prince Edward County, Virginia, to be reopened.

(Courtesy of Baltimore Afro-American)

US District Court, District of Columbia, “Adams v. Richardson, 1972,” The State of History, accessed May 14, 2013,

1973 – Adams vs. Richardson – The court case primarily upheld the role of historically black colleges and universities by dismantling the role of a dual higher educational system.  The case achieved its goal after the NAACP rightfully filed a suit on behalf of black students and citizens against the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare as well as the Office of Civil Rights.  The action was created in search for declaratory and commanding relief in relation to school desegregation.

1978 – California vs. Bakke – The decision of this court case changed the landscape and momentum of desegregation in higher education.  Allen Bake, a white student was denied admission into the University of California. He then sued the University for discrimination since the University had many positions opened for minority students.  The suit in the lower courts established that he was indeed discriminated against and that this denial violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The Supreme Court upheld the decision in favor of Bakke and ordered him to be admitted in a 5 to 4 decision.  Furthermore, it forced all policies and practices of institutions, attempting to desegregate, to be revised in order to obey the Supreme Court’s decision.

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