In the 1865-75 decade following the Civil War, America experienced a Reconstruction era.
For a while, newly freed slaves and other Black people rose to prominent positions in business, education and especially elected office. There were Black U.S. senators, U.S. representatives, state legislators and a great many mayors and city council people.
From the mid-1870s on, sadly, this progress was almost entirely cancelled. In the South, white people opposed to reconstruction brutally struck down voting rights until ex-confederates returned to power. Jim Crow laws were enacted that kept Black people segregated in virtually all spheres of life.
Even in the North, most white people went along with these steps backward. Instead of specific laws that segregated, they used informal practices to accomplish largely the same thing.
By 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court went even further, upholding “separate but equal” segregation as constitutional. For the next six decades, Black people would be held down by segregation, with the full backing of federal courts.
During those awful decades, Black people never gave up.
The NAACP was formed in 1909. One of its purposes is to use legal representation to push for enforcement of the Constitution’s promises of equality. Thurgood Marshall was a prominent Black attorney who joined the NAACP staff in the 1930s to help found the group’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Together, he and the NAACP legal staff started winning cases, chipping away at segregation. This culminated with the historic Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, case.
In this ruling, the Supreme Court agreed 9-0 with Marshall and the NAACP that in public education, separate meant inherently unequal.
As a result, in the years to come, efforts to integrate schools and many other areas of life succeeded in opening paths to greater diversity and inclusion not only for Black people, but many others historically discriminated against.
Despite many setbacks through the decades since, Brown v. Board of Education remains perhaps the single greatest court decision for racial equality.
Here are some books to read on the subject:
• “Thurgood Marshall, American Revolutionary,” by Juan Williams.
• “Thurgood Marshall: A Biography,” by Glenn L. Starks.
• “Young Thurgood – The Making of a Supreme Court Justice,” by Larry S. Gibson.
• “Brown v. Board of Education: A Fight For Simple Justice,” by Susan Goldman Rubin.