I was about 9 months old in 1954 when the Supreme Court of the United States rendered its landmark decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. Almost a century had passed since the Emancipation Proclamation was declared by Abraham Lincoln in 1862 banning slavery and declaring in part that the government would henceforth “recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any eff orts they may make for their actual freedom.” This ‘actual” freedom, however, was slow to come about.
After years of opinions from both federal and state courts holding otherwise, our nation’s Supreme Court finally ruled in 1954 that state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools were unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court went further to add that even if schools were otherwise
equal in quality, segregation of students based on race was still a violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution. (The truth, however, was the fact that black schools were rarely, if ever equal in quality).
Afterward, the Supreme Court spent the next several months deciding upon some overall plan as to how school integration was to be implemented. Chief Justice Earl Warren instructed the individual states to begin the process of the integration of public schools, “with all deliberate speed”, yet movement in that direction was slow. The Civil Rights movement would follow in the 60’s encouraging a quicker resolve to not only integrate public schools but to insist upon equal rights in every realm of American society.
The Civil Rights movement helped foster first, the enactment of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities and made employment discrimination illegal when based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. That was followed by the passage of The Voting Rights Act of 1965 protecting minority voting rights and, barring states from passing laws that would discriminate against minority voters. Finally, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, i.e. the “Fair Housing Act,” would provide equal housing opportunities regardless of race, creed or national origin. Still the enforcement of all such laws, and court decisions upholding them were to continue at a tedious rate. Tullahoma would build what was touted locally as the “Million Dollar” high school some 5 years after the decision in Brown, yet black students in Tullahoma never enjoyed that facility until years later. Until then black students were required to attend school at the C D Stamps “complex” that, at the time had more the resemblance of a surplus army facility relocated from nearby Camp Forrest than a school building.
I, myself, would not witness the integration of public schools in the Tullahoma
City School System until my 7th grade at East Junior High. That was more
than a decade after the Brown decision in 1954 and more than 100 years after
the Emancipation Proclamation.