They have to be separated in school

Thurgood Marshall arguing Brown v Board of Education before the Supreme Court in 1953.

I got the feeling on hearing the discussion yesterday that when you put a white child in a school with a whole lot of colored children, the child would fall apart or something. Everybody knows that is not true.  Those same kids in Virginia and South Carolina – and I have seen them do it – they play in the streets together, they play on their farms together, they go down the road together, they separate to go to school, they come out of school and play ball together. They have to be separated in school. There is some magic to it. You can have them voting together, you can have them not restricted because of law in the houses they live in. You can have them going to the same state university and the same college, but if they go to elementary and high school, the world will fall apart.

Cooties cooties cooties! Separate them or ew ew ew.

They can’t take race out of this case. From the day this case was filed until this moment, nobody has in any form or fashion, despite the fact I made it clear in the opening argument that I was relying on it, done anything to distinguish this statute from the Black Codes, which they must admit, because nobody can dispute, say anything anybody wants to say, one way or the other, the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to deprive the states of power to enforce Black Codes or anything else like it.

We charge that they are Black Codes. They obviously are Black Codes if you read them. They haven’t denied that they are Black Codes, so if the Court wants to very narrowly decide this case, they can decide it on that point.

And what are Black Codes? Post-Civil War laws passed to keep slavery in all but name.

So whichever way it is done, the only way that this Court can decide this case in opposition to our position, is that there must be some reason which gives the state the right to make a classification that they can make in regard to nothing else in regard to Negroes, and we submit the only way to arrive at that decision is to find that for some reason Negroes are inferior to all other human beings.

And that is why separate is not equal.


  1. says

    Is separate automatically bad? What about separation by gender, by religion, by parental wealth, and all the other factors that make separation in schools so common?

  2. says

    Well not any and all separation. But this was mandatory separation, on racial grounds, enforced by violence when it was challenged. That’s certainly bad.

    The issue with UUK is of imposed separation that is enforced by the way the tickets are sold, by designating different entrances, by not allowing people to sit in the “wrong” section. Yes that’s bad.

  3. A. Noyd says

    Separation to create safe spaces for underprivileged or discriminated people* is not bad itself, but it’s a symptom of badness in larger society. The institution of separation from a place of power (whether formal or informal) is automatically bad, though, yes.

    *Such as women’s shelters, gay bars and historically black colleges.

  4. suttkus says

    As I said in comment on another blogpost here, the problem with “separate but equal” is “separate” drives alienation. While there are certainly justifications for some cases (especially in providing safe spaces for people subject to threatening social prejudices), segregation reinforces notions that the group being segregated are different, alien, them, not us, foreign things with strange thought processes not quite suitable to mingle with the majority. It reinforces the very root of prejudice and bias. They Are Unlike. They Are Aberrant. They Are Not Normal.

    No matter how equal you make things, segregating is still biased and biasing.

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