Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, was the U.S. Supreme Court’s name for a series of lower-court cases that were heard at the same time by the high court, which eventually overturned its own 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson—which held that “separate but equal” (aka segregated) public facilities were legal.
On May 17, 1954, the court found—unanimously—that the practice of racial segregation in schools violated the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Arguing for the plaintiffs were NAACP and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund lawyers, among whom was future first black Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
The ruling changed some things—and didn’t change others—in the intervening years. Here are 10 developments—five positive, five negative—since Brown.
1. Good: The End of Legal Segregation
Brown v. Board of Education overturned the Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision and outlawed segregation in public schools—paving the way for the eventual elimination of de jure segregation in public facilities.
2. Bad: The Always Transforming and Insidious Nature of Racism
It was one thing to fight racism when it came in the form of a Ku Klux Klan uniform, a nightstick or a fireman’s hose. It’s another to shadowbox a mutated racism that now cries “urban” instead of the n-word and swears it’s not racist because it has a “black friend.” It’s not that racism ever goes away, no matter what the Supreme Court rules—it’s that racism is a game that keeps changing.
3. Good: More Black College Graduates
In 1960 the number of black Americans who had completed a college education was a paltry 3.1 percent. Today nearly 20 percent of African Americans have at least a college degree.
4. Bad: The Destabilization of Long-Standing Black Institutions
When schools were integrated throughout the U.S., they integrated students but not necessarily the many black teachers and administrators who had once worked at the all-black schools. Also, many all-black schools that had great histories and alumni traditions of their own were shuttered post-integration. This went on to acutely affect historically black colleges and universities. The competition for students and, in a few cases, financial difficulties had ruinous results.
5. Good: The Emergence of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Election of President Barack Obama
In the years since Brown, the number of African Americans elected to Congress, statehouses and governorships has jumped up from a paltry civil rights-era number of 1,469 in 1970 to 8,868 in 1998. These numbers, which continue to grow, eventually led to the election of a black former state legislator and then-U.S. senator to the office of president of the United States.
6. Bad: More African Americans in Prison Than Ever
Decades after Brown v. Board as well as the school-to-prison pipeline and war on drugs—both of which boomed in the 1980s—the black incarceration rate has only gone up.
7. Good: Meritocracy … in Athletics
It seems almost strange to think now that there was, in fact, a time when black athletes weren’t considered intelligent enough to play offense in football or not skilled enough to play major-league baseball or basketball. Today 81 percent of NBA players are black. The field isn’t level in sports when it comes to ownership and who gets the biggest piece of the pie, but for once, when it comes to winning, what matters is what you do on the court and field, not what color you are.
8. Bad: A Plummeting Marriage Rate
Up until the 1960s, blacks and whites got married at about the same rate (pdf). In the post-Brown era—though the rate is not directly tied to the court case—not so much.
9. Good: The Emergence of a Black 1 Percent
While there have always been some wealthy black Americans (pressing-comb inventor and early black millionaire Madam C.J. Walker comes to mind), black multimillionaires and billionaires are largely a post-Brown, post-civil rights movement phenomenon. Before we could have moguls like Oprah Winfrey, though, the way was paved by those who fought to remove legal barriers that held back even high-achieving African Americans.
10. Bad: Fewer Black-Owned Businesses
Already operating with less, economically, than white businesses that had more capital to work with, and often discriminated against in their efforts to get business loans, many black banks, rooming houses, grocery stores, shops and restaurants went out of business after integration, when black customers finally had a choice of where they could spend their money.