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Awakenings:
The Brown Decision
and the Murder of
Emmett Till
Image: The Militant (March 1959)
Course Learning Objectives
• Describe structures and manifestations of racial inequality in the U.S.
since emancipation.
• Understand how changing historical contexts create opportunities and
constraints that influence when and how social movements emerge.
• Assess the philosophies, strategies, tactics, and demands of activists and
organizations advocating racial justice.
• Identify key historical figures, campaigns, victories, and setbacks of the
“long civil rights movement” of the 1950s and 1960s.
• Explain how opponents of racial justice have responded to movement
demands and successes.
Trigger Warning
Today’s class will include discussion and written descriptions of brutal
racist violence.
These slides include one graphic image,
directly preceded by another warning.
Prior to the Brown decision, seventeen states required racial segregation in public education by
law and four more permitted it.
Segregation in Public Education
Segregated facilities for Black students, like this school in Virginia (pictured in March 1953), were of far
inferior quality compared to those for white students. They were typically overcrowded and under-
resourced, for example, using outdated textbooks discarded by nearby white schools. In the Deep South,
schools for Black children often operated during fewer months and for fewer hours per day, and in many
cases were closed during cotton harvesting season so that Black children could work in the fields.
Moton High School (on the left, for Black students) and Farmville High School (for white
students). Prince Edward County, Virginia, 1951. A lawsuit brought by Moton students to remedy
the inferior nature of schools designated for Black students became part of the landmark Brown v.
Board of Education case, first argued in front of the Supreme Court in Dec 1952.
Science classrooms and
auditoriums in Moton (on
the left) and Farmville high
schools.
Boys’ toilets at Moton high school,
1951.
The “Doll Test”
More than a decade before the Brown case,
psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted a
series of experiments in the 1940s referred to as “the
doll tests” in an effort to understand the psychological
effects of segregation on Black children. The test used
four dolls, identical except for color, to test the racial
perceptions of children ages three to seven. Each child
was asked to identify the race of the dolls and state
which doll they preferred. Most of the subjects
reported that they preferred the white doll and
attributed positive qualities to it. The Clarks concluded
that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation”
damaged the self-esteem of Black children by
instilling in them a sense of racial inferiority. This
study was offered by the plaintiffs in the Brown case
as evidence of the damaging effects suffered by Black
children as a result of segregated schools.
“Kenneth Clark observing a child playing with black
and white dolls, part of a study that he and his wife,
who was also a psychologist, conducted on the self-
image of black children.” Credit: Untitled, Harlem,
New York, 1947. Gordon Parks/The Gordon Parks
Foundation.
“Nine-year-old student Linda Brown (first desk in second row from right) sits with her classmates at the racially
segregated Monroe Elementary School, Topeka, Kansas, 1953. When her enrollment at a ‘whites-only’ school
was blocked, her family initiated the landmark Civil Rights lawsuit ‘Brown V. Board of Education,’ that led to
the beginning of integration in the U.S. education system.” Carl Iwasaki/Life Images Collection/Getty
“Portrait of the African-American students for whom the famous Brown vs Board of Education case was brought and
their parents: (front row L-R) Vicki Henderson, Donald Henderson, Linda Brown, James Emanuel, Nancy Todd, and
Katherine Carper; (back row L-R) Zelma Henderson, Oliver Brown, Sadie Emanuel, Lucinda Todd, & Lena Carper,
Topeka, Kansas, 1953.” Carl Iwasaki/Life Images Collection/Getty.
The doctrine of “separate but equal,” established in the case of Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896), which became
the bedrock of Jim Crow, was overturned unanimously by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of
Education. Brown pooled cases brought by plaintiffs in fours states—Kansas, Virginia, South Carolina, and
Delaware—demonstrating the national scope of school segregation.
Brown vs. Board of Education (1954)
“George E. C. Hayes, Thurgood Marshall, and James
M. Nabrit congratulating each other on the Brown
decision,” Associated Press (17 May 1954).
The Brown victory was the culmination of
decades of litigation and strategizing by the
NAACP. Its team, led by
future Supreme Court justice Thurgood
Marshall, the head of its Legal Defense and
Education Fund, represented the plaintiffs.
The ruling represented a landmark
achievement, and arguably the greatest
accomplishment of the organization, which
had shifted focus in the 1930s from passage
of anti-lynching legislation to targeted
efforts to dismantle segregation completely.
The liberal Warren Court (1953-69)
ruled unanimously in the Brown decision. President Dwight
Eisenhower, who had appointed Chief Justice Earl Warren
(above left) to the court, did not approve of the decision, did
not publicly encourage state governments to abide by it, and
did not believe that proponents of desegregation should urge
quick implementation of the ruling. Despite this,
Eisenhower would be forced to implement the decision in
Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957.
The Brown Decision
“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. It is required in the performance of our most basic public
responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good
citizenship. 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.
We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public
schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other
‘tangible’ factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal
educational opportunities? We believe that it does.”
The Brown Decision (cont’d)
“…Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental
effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of
the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the
inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child
to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [slow] the
educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some
of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system…
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 others similarly situated for whom the
actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived
of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. This
disposition makes unnecessary any discussion whether such segregation also
violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”
--Chief Justice Earl Warren, Opinion of the Court
“All Deliberate Speed”
Despite the enormous triumph signaled
by the Brown ruling, which put federal
law on the side of civil rights activists
for the first time since Reconstruction,
the landmark case marked the beginning
of the modern movement, rather than its
conclusion. In determining the “remedy”
or “relief’ to be required as a result of its
findings, the Supreme Court in a follow-
up ruling known as Brown II (1955),
mandated that racial segregation of
public schools be corrected “with all
deliberate speed,” setting the stage for
massive resistance by white Southerners
opposed to integration.
Fourteen year-old Emmett Till, visiting from
Chicago, was murdered and mutilated for
supposedly talking inappropriately to a
white woman in Mississippi.
In the days before his death in July 2020,
Congressman John Lewis connected Till’s
murder to 21st century attacks on Black
lives. “Emmett Till was my George Floyd.
He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland
and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he
was killed, and I was only 15 years old at
the time. I will never ever forget the moment
when it became so clear that he could easily
have been me. In those days, fear
constrained us like an imaginary prison…”
The Murder of Emmett Till
(Aug 1955)
Trigger Warning
The following slide includes a graphic image
depicting an act of brutal racist violence.
Above, Mamie Till Bradley sobs over her
son’s mutilated body. She insisted on an open
casket, she explained, so “all the world [can]
see what they did to my boy.” Jet magazine,
a Black publication, printed these images,
making Emmett’s murder a national story.
Unlike many white Southerners involved in
similar crimes, Till’s killers actually stood
trial. They were acquitted by an all-white,
all-male jury after only an hour of
deliberation. The defendants later described
the night of Till’s disappearance and
admitted to the crime in exchange for $4,000
from Look magazine. Though they
acknowledged that they took Till by force
from his uncle’s home, they were never
charged with kidnapping.
Evaluating Sources
• How can we tell which sources are “good” (i.e. useful or
revealing)?
• What counts as a “good” source will vary depending on
what you are trying to learn or find out.
• Sources often offer conflicting accounts, interpretations,
or memories of an event or experience.
• Some sources are more “reliable” (trustworthy) than
others.
Factors to Consider in Evaluating Sources:
• Identity: Who created or published this source?
• Authority: How close was the creator to the event(s) they describe?
• Audience: Who was the source created for? What was the target
audience, and why?
• Motivations: Why was this source created? Did the creator have
something to gain or lose in influencing how the event would be
understood?
• Context: When was the source created? How long after the event?
What else was occurring at that time?
• Accuracy/reliability: Does this source confirm or contradict the
accounts offers by similar sources? What might that tell us about how a
given event has been studied?
What can we learn from these
primary sources?
• What narrative does the Look magazine article offer? What
happened? Why was Till killed?
• What story can be pieced together using the oral history
interviews about this event?
• How do these accounts compare?

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1.26.23 Awakenings--The Brown Decision and the Murder of Emmett Till.pptx

  • 1. Awakenings: The Brown Decision and the Murder of Emmett Till Image: The Militant (March 1959)
  • 2. Course Learning Objectives • Describe structures and manifestations of racial inequality in the U.S. since emancipation. • Understand how changing historical contexts create opportunities and constraints that influence when and how social movements emerge. • Assess the philosophies, strategies, tactics, and demands of activists and organizations advocating racial justice. • Identify key historical figures, campaigns, victories, and setbacks of the “long civil rights movement” of the 1950s and 1960s. • Explain how opponents of racial justice have responded to movement demands and successes.
  • 3. Trigger Warning Today’s class will include discussion and written descriptions of brutal racist violence. These slides include one graphic image, directly preceded by another warning.
  • 4. Prior to the Brown decision, seventeen states required racial segregation in public education by law and four more permitted it. Segregation in Public Education
  • 5. Segregated facilities for Black students, like this school in Virginia (pictured in March 1953), were of far inferior quality compared to those for white students. They were typically overcrowded and under- resourced, for example, using outdated textbooks discarded by nearby white schools. In the Deep South, schools for Black children often operated during fewer months and for fewer hours per day, and in many cases were closed during cotton harvesting season so that Black children could work in the fields.
  • 6. Moton High School (on the left, for Black students) and Farmville High School (for white students). Prince Edward County, Virginia, 1951. A lawsuit brought by Moton students to remedy the inferior nature of schools designated for Black students became part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, first argued in front of the Supreme Court in Dec 1952.
  • 7. Science classrooms and auditoriums in Moton (on the left) and Farmville high schools.
  • 8. Boys’ toilets at Moton high school, 1951.
  • 9. The “Doll Test” More than a decade before the Brown case, psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted a series of experiments in the 1940s referred to as “the doll tests” in an effort to understand the psychological effects of segregation on Black children. The test used four dolls, identical except for color, to test the racial perceptions of children ages three to seven. Each child was asked to identify the race of the dolls and state which doll they preferred. Most of the subjects reported that they preferred the white doll and attributed positive qualities to it. The Clarks concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” damaged the self-esteem of Black children by instilling in them a sense of racial inferiority. This study was offered by the plaintiffs in the Brown case as evidence of the damaging effects suffered by Black children as a result of segregated schools. “Kenneth Clark observing a child playing with black and white dolls, part of a study that he and his wife, who was also a psychologist, conducted on the self- image of black children.” Credit: Untitled, Harlem, New York, 1947. Gordon Parks/The Gordon Parks Foundation.
  • 10. “Nine-year-old student Linda Brown (first desk in second row from right) sits with her classmates at the racially segregated Monroe Elementary School, Topeka, Kansas, 1953. When her enrollment at a ‘whites-only’ school was blocked, her family initiated the landmark Civil Rights lawsuit ‘Brown V. Board of Education,’ that led to the beginning of integration in the U.S. education system.” Carl Iwasaki/Life Images Collection/Getty
  • 11. “Portrait of the African-American students for whom the famous Brown vs Board of Education case was brought and their parents: (front row L-R) Vicki Henderson, Donald Henderson, Linda Brown, James Emanuel, Nancy Todd, and Katherine Carper; (back row L-R) Zelma Henderson, Oliver Brown, Sadie Emanuel, Lucinda Todd, & Lena Carper, Topeka, Kansas, 1953.” Carl Iwasaki/Life Images Collection/Getty.
  • 12. The doctrine of “separate but equal,” established in the case of Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896), which became the bedrock of Jim Crow, was overturned unanimously by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. Brown pooled cases brought by plaintiffs in fours states—Kansas, Virginia, South Carolina, and Delaware—demonstrating the national scope of school segregation. Brown vs. Board of Education (1954)
  • 13. “George E. C. Hayes, Thurgood Marshall, and James M. Nabrit congratulating each other on the Brown decision,” Associated Press (17 May 1954). The Brown victory was the culmination of decades of litigation and strategizing by the NAACP. Its team, led by future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, the head of its Legal Defense and Education Fund, represented the plaintiffs. The ruling represented a landmark achievement, and arguably the greatest accomplishment of the organization, which had shifted focus in the 1930s from passage of anti-lynching legislation to targeted efforts to dismantle segregation completely.
  • 14. The liberal Warren Court (1953-69) ruled unanimously in the Brown decision. President Dwight Eisenhower, who had appointed Chief Justice Earl Warren (above left) to the court, did not approve of the decision, did not publicly encourage state governments to abide by it, and did not believe that proponents of desegregation should urge quick implementation of the ruling. Despite this, Eisenhower would be forced to implement the decision in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957.
  • 15. The Brown Decision “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. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. 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. We come then to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other ‘tangible’ factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does.”
  • 16. The Brown Decision (cont’d) “…Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [slow] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system… 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 others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. This disposition makes unnecessary any discussion whether such segregation also violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” --Chief Justice Earl Warren, Opinion of the Court
  • 17. “All Deliberate Speed” Despite the enormous triumph signaled by the Brown ruling, which put federal law on the side of civil rights activists for the first time since Reconstruction, the landmark case marked the beginning of the modern movement, rather than its conclusion. In determining the “remedy” or “relief’ to be required as a result of its findings, the Supreme Court in a follow- up ruling known as Brown II (1955), mandated that racial segregation of public schools be corrected “with all deliberate speed,” setting the stage for massive resistance by white Southerners opposed to integration.
  • 18.
  • 19. Fourteen year-old Emmett Till, visiting from Chicago, was murdered and mutilated for supposedly talking inappropriately to a white woman in Mississippi. In the days before his death in July 2020, Congressman John Lewis connected Till’s murder to 21st century attacks on Black lives. “Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison…” The Murder of Emmett Till (Aug 1955)
  • 20. Trigger Warning The following slide includes a graphic image depicting an act of brutal racist violence.
  • 21. Above, Mamie Till Bradley sobs over her son’s mutilated body. She insisted on an open casket, she explained, so “all the world [can] see what they did to my boy.” Jet magazine, a Black publication, printed these images, making Emmett’s murder a national story.
  • 22. Unlike many white Southerners involved in similar crimes, Till’s killers actually stood trial. They were acquitted by an all-white, all-male jury after only an hour of deliberation. The defendants later described the night of Till’s disappearance and admitted to the crime in exchange for $4,000 from Look magazine. Though they acknowledged that they took Till by force from his uncle’s home, they were never charged with kidnapping.
  • 23. Evaluating Sources • How can we tell which sources are “good” (i.e. useful or revealing)? • What counts as a “good” source will vary depending on what you are trying to learn or find out. • Sources often offer conflicting accounts, interpretations, or memories of an event or experience. • Some sources are more “reliable” (trustworthy) than others.
  • 24. Factors to Consider in Evaluating Sources: • Identity: Who created or published this source? • Authority: How close was the creator to the event(s) they describe? • Audience: Who was the source created for? What was the target audience, and why? • Motivations: Why was this source created? Did the creator have something to gain or lose in influencing how the event would be understood? • Context: When was the source created? How long after the event? What else was occurring at that time? • Accuracy/reliability: Does this source confirm or contradict the accounts offers by similar sources? What might that tell us about how a given event has been studied?
  • 25. What can we learn from these primary sources? • What narrative does the Look magazine article offer? What happened? Why was Till killed? • What story can be pieced together using the oral history interviews about this event? • How do these accounts compare?

Editor's Notes

  1. Racial Segregation represented by separating schools for African Americans. Virginia, March 1953. Photo by Hank Walker
  2. www.docsteach.org/documents/document/moton-exterior & www.docsteach.org/documents/document/farmville-exterior
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/07/upshot/how-an-experiment-with-dolls-helped-lead-to-school-integration.html
  4. A collection of letters between an immigrant and their family back home can be useful in understanding the experiences of immigration in terms of work, family, and social life, but may be less revealing in terms of the thinking of political leaders or the laws produced in response to rising rates of immigration. Similarly, a study of oral interviews with voters discussing their thoughts on a given election might reveal a lot about why and how members of specific groups choose to participate in the political process, but may be less revealing in terms of the outcome or significance of specific elections.