Process of dismantling the legally sanctioned system that separated people according to such characteristics as race, religion, or gender.
In the United States, mandated racial segregation in housing, education, employment, and public accommodations and facilities was widespread, particularly in the South, before it was prohibited in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Substantive desegregation began with the 1954 landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education
In Brown, the Court unanimously concluded that segregated public schools were “inherently unequal” and unconstitutional. In the unanimous opinion, Chief Justice Earl Warren argued that education was perhaps the most important function of state and local governments and that it was “doubtful that any child may be reasonably expected to succeed in life if he is denied an education.…Such an opportunity is a right which must be available to all on equal terms.” In Brown, the Court also argued that the dehumanizing effects of mandated racial segregation were such that minority children were deprived of equal educational opportunities even when facilities and other tangible factors are equal.
In the late 1960’s and the early 1970’s, the Court, which had gained a few pro-civil rights justices appointed by Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, redoubled its desegregation efforts. It not merely opened schools and facilities to all races; it sought to integrate these facilities and ensure that culture and custom did not result in or perpetuate segregation. In Green v. County School Board of New Kent County
Other major steps toward desegregation were taken by the Court in the Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education
Appointments to the Court after 1968 were made by presidents whose campaigns promised a more conservative judiciary and a weakening of civil rights policies. In 1971 President Richard M. Nixon appointed conservative William H. Rehnquist to the Court. Rehnquist, who was later elevated to chief justice by Ronald Reagan, was selected for his belief that the Court should play a more restrained, less activist role. In 1991 President George Bush named Clarence Thomas, a staunch conservative critic of civil rights policy, to replace Thurgood Marshall, the former lawyer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense Fund who had argued the Brown case. By the 1990’s the views of Rehnquist and Thomas had become the majority view of the Court.
Leading decisions made by the Court beginning in 1974 reflect a narrowing of the scope and a partial dismantling of desegregation policy. In Milliken v. Bradley
In Milliken v. Bradley
Other leading cases that indicate a dismantling of desegregation policy include Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell
In Missouri v. Jenkins
Massey, Douglas, and Nancy Denton. American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993. Orfield, Gary, and Susan Eatonn. Dismantling Desegregation: The Quiet Reversal of “Brown v. Board of Education.” New York: New Press, 1996. Wasby, Stephen, Anthony D’Amato, and Rosemary Metrailer. Desegregation from “Brown” to “Alexander”: An Exploration of Supreme Court Strategies. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1977. Wicker, Tom. Tragic Failure: Racial Integration in America. New York: William Morrow, 1996.
Brown v. Board of Education
Milliken v. Bradley
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
Plessy v. Ferguson
Race and discrimination
Rehnquist, William H.
School integration and busing
Segregation, de facto
Segregation, de jure