Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court ruled that American state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools are unconstitutional, even if the segregated schools are otherwise equal in quality. Handed down on May 17, 1954, the Court's unanimous (9–0) decision stated that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal," and therefore violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, the decision's 14 pages did not spell out any sort of method for ending racial segregation in schools, and the Court's second decision in Brown II (349294 (1955)) only ordered states to desegregate "with all deliberate speed".
The decision came out of a case from Topeka, Kansas, where the public elementary schools had been segregated by race since the late 19th century. In 1951, the Topeka public school district refused to enroll the daughter of local black resident Oliver Brown at the school closest to their home, instead requiring her to ride a bus to a segregated black elementary school further away. The Browns and twelve other local black families in similar situations then filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. federal court against the Topeka Board of Education, alleging that its segregation policy was unconstitutional. A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas rendered a verdict against the Browns, relying on the precedent of the Supreme Court's 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, in which the Court had ruled that racial segregation was not in itself a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause if the facilities in question were otherwise equal, a doctrine that had come to be known as "separate but equal". The Browns, then represented by NAACP chief counsel Thurgood Marshall, appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.
The Court's decision in Brown partially overruled Plessy v. Ferguson by declaring that the "separate but equal" notion was unconstitutional for American public schools and educational facilities.[note 1] It paved the way for integration and was a major victory of the Civil Rights Movement, and a model for many future impact litigation cases. In the American South, especially the "Deep South", where racial segregation was deeply entrenched, the reaction to Brown among most white people was "noisy and stubborn". Many Southern governmental and political leaders embraced a plan known as "Massive Resistance", created by Virginia Senator Harry F. Byrd, in order to frustrate attempts to force them to de-segregate their school systems. Four years later, in the case of Cooper v. Aaron, the Court reaffirmed its ruling in Brown, and explicitly stated that state officials and legislators had no power to nullify its ruling.
The United States and the Soviet Union were both at the height of the Cold War during this time, and U.S. officials, including Supreme Court Justices, were highly aware of the harm that segregation and racism played on America's international image. When Justice William O. Douglas traveled to India in 1950, the first question he was asked was, "Why does America tolerate the lynching of Negroes?" Douglas later wrote that he had learned from his travels that "the attitude of the United States toward its colored minorities is a powerful factor in our relations with India." Chief Justice Earl Warren, nominated to the Supreme Court by President Eisenhower, echoed Douglas's concerns in a 1954 speech to the American Bar Association, proclaiming that "Our American system like all others is on trial both at home and abroad, ... the extent to which we maintain the spirit of our constitution with its Bill of Rights, will in the long run do more to make it both secure and the object of adulation than the number of hydrogen bombs we stockpile."