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Brown v. Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy (Pivotal Moments in American History)

4.4 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195156324
ISBN-10: 0195156323
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In one of the most explosive legal decisions of the century, Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that racial segregation in America's public schools was unconstitutional. The chief attorney for the African American families who initiated the legal challenge was Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first black person to serve as a Supreme Court Justice. In this brief, detailed book, historian James Patterson reconstructs the complex history of the watershed 1954 case, from its legal precursors to its troubling legacy. "To be sure, Brown called for changes that the Court itself could not enforce," he writes. "In time, however, some of those changes came to pass, even in schools, those most highly sensitive of institutions."

Patterson outlines the stories of several influential pre-Brown cases and details the thinking and exploits of the legal minds involved with Brown, including Marshall and Chief Justice Earl Warren. He also follows the various responses to the decision by those most affected by it, including bigoted Arkansas governor Orval Faubus as well as President Dwight Eisenhower. More than a simple chronology, Brown v. Board of Education raises many questions about America's unfinished business of truly democratizing its educational system once and for all. Both instructive and disturbing, this book calls for us to question whether we will turn back the clock or demand movement forward. --Eugene Holley Jr. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Patterson (history, Brown Univ., Grand Expectations) is eminently qualified to lead us through the saga of the Civil Rights movement as it relates to public education. The U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1954 decision overturned a way of thinking that had persisted largely unchallenged since the end of the Civil War. A commonly accepted legal theory supported by an 1896 Supreme Court decision (Plessy v. Ferguson) was based, the author notes, upon archaic psychological theories that had been superseded by modern theory supporting a linkage between racial segregation and concomitant feelings of inferiority and damage to motivation and, hence, to learning. The author devotes the rest of the book to the tedious and thorny issues of implementation that he believes were needlessly protracted because the Court, in an effort to achieve unanimity and, feeling the need to placate the Southern states by abstaining from inflammatory rhetoric or threat of force, laid down only broad guidelines. The result, notes the author, is a process that has lately actually fluctuated back in the direction of permitting re-segregation in neighborhood schools where demographic changes resulting from private choice rather than public policy have produced a different racial mix. The issues are complex, profound, and ongoing, but the author provides balanced and extensive coverage. Recommended for academic and law libraries.DPhilip Y. Blue, New York State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Law Lib., New York
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Pivotal Moments in American History
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (December 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195156323
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195156324
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 0.8 x 6.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #514,134 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Having grown up during the 1950's I wanted to familiarize myself in regard to civil rights, in particular as it applied to the historic 1954 Supreme Court ruling "Brown vs. the Board of Education." I found that President Eisenhower was not in favor of getting involved in civil rights for African Americans. He is quoted as saying that appointing Earl Warren as Chief Justice to the Supreme Court was the "biggest damn fool mistake I ever made." Roy Wilkins of the NAACP is quoted as saying if Eisenhower fought World War II as he did for civil rights, "We'd all be speaking German today." I was disappointed in Eisenhower's approach to civil rights for African Americans. Ten years after the 1954 Brown ruling, things hadn't changed regarding civil rights. The heroes in the book are those workers who fought in the trenches for civil rights, particularly during the 1960's. Most of them are not remembered, but their contributions remain, nonetheless. President Johnson's greatest legacy remains getting the government behind racial justice. The 1954 Brown ruling hasn't had the effect it may have desired regarding schools, but by the 20th anniversary of Brown, America had been brought kicking and screaming forward for civil rights for African Americans. The book lists a number of cases and studies with their results and I have concluded we don't really know whether integration has improved test scores in schools. Having been a teacher myself for 32 years I do know that children are not bigoted as were some children and adults I knew as a kid. Kids often reflect their parents behavior. This is a book that is definitely worthy of your time. I did find one error in the book. The author said Julius and Ethyl Rosenberg were executed in July of 1953 when actually it was on June 19, 1953.
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Format: Hardcover
Much more needs to be written about the Brown v. Board of Education era. Patterson indeed does a good service of describing the "trouble legacy" of Brown. For while school integregation and the end to seperate but equal laws were a major revolution of sorts in this country, Brown left unresolved significant questions and problems concerning the education of African descended students and other minorities. For example, while Brown focused on legal and structural changes in public education, which led to the desegregation of schools, it did not address issues of integrating school curriculum and preparing teachers and school officials for a multicultural transformation of schooling. It simply assumed that the solution to racism in this society was to provide a way for Blacks to assimilate in the larger White society instead of empowering themselves to respect and build their own culture and institutions. While Patterson deals with the legal aspects Brown, he too avoids or overlooks the pedagogical and cultural issues that went unaddressed in Brown. Thus, Patterson's work doesn't add significantly anything new to the history of Brown that is not dealt with in J. Harvie Wilkson's From Brown to Bakke or Kluger's Simple Justice.
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Format: Hardcover
Patterson succeeds in writing a very different book than Kruger's unequaled "Simple Justice." While Simple Justice told the story of how Brown v. Board of Education came to be, Paterson asks whether Brown should have been.
After giving a brief history of Brown (covering, in summary fashion, much of the ground covered by Kruger), Patterson examines the aftermath of Brown. The question Patterson addresses throughout the book is whether Brown marked a step forward in civil rights.
Patterson successfully debunks the argument that Brown was a step backwards. As he says, anyone who thinks that the country was better off before Brown had better buy a two way ticket if he wants to go back in time, because he will want to turn right around and come back. Before Brown, most black children were educated in tarpaper shacks, by grossly underpaid teachers, with no supplies, and even less respect.
Did Brown solve all problems? Of course not. As Patterson notes, what Brown does do is prove that there are limits to the power of the courts to accomplish social change. However, the Supreme Court did set an unequivocal moral tone, which set the stage for the civil rights movement, which (building on the constitutional foundation built by Brown) changed the world we all live in.
Has racism ended? No. But no one should expect any Supreme Court decision (or even a series of decisions spanning less than 25 years) to undo the racial history of this country which had taken 400 years to build. The real shame is that beginning in the late 70's, the courts, Congress, and the President have all worked to reverse the moral tone set in Brown. Unfortunately, they have succeeded all too well. But one can not fairly blame that on the Supreme Court's decision in Brown.
A thought provoking book which should be read by anyone who is interested in the history of race relations in the second half of the 20th Century.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book provides a credible introduction to a nuanced study not only of Brown but its limitations, particularly its inability to crack deeper structures of racial inequality in the United States. Patterson argues that these structures, rather than the product of irrational racial prejudice in the South, were in fact integral components of America's larger social and economic formation. Patterson does much to shed light on this formation and to show that, as much as Jim Crow might have angered liberals like Chief Justice Warren, it did not repel them enough to call for fundamental changes in American society.

Just as Patterson deftly captures Warren's liberalism, so too does he convey white America's conflicted stance towards race. Eager to appear reconstructed, America proved reluctant to pay the price necessary for real reform. Eager to make an example of the South, Northern and Western whites proved remarkably conservative, quickly seeking refuge in the suburbs when their racial liberalism started to boomerang back on them. Relying on an impressive swath of secondary sources, Patterson weaves together parallel historiographies not only of the Supreme Court, but also the civil rights movement, massive resistance, white flight, suburban sprawl, and Republican politics. This sets the stage for an impressive argument, one that focuses not only on struggles to implement Brown in the South, but across the country. Indeed, Patterson's final hundred pages provide a compelling narrative of myriad, subtle rollbacks in civil rights gains during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s at the national level.
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