HISTORICAL BACKGROUND 6

(6) Known as Davis et al v. the County School Board of Prince Edward County, VA, et al, the case was decided by a lower court in favor of the county. On appeal, however, it was combined with four other appellate cases from around the country. Briggs et al. v. Elliot et al. (South Carolina) had been initiated on May 24, 1951, with Spottswood Robinson acting as assistant attorney for the plaintiff and an assistant attorney general from Virginia present as an observer. Gebhart v. Belton (Delaware), argued in 1951, along with Bulah v. Gebhart (Delaware), involved a high school in Wilmington and an elementary school in Hockessin. The Delaware cases, initially focused on bus transportation and unequal facilities, later centered their arguments on integration. The two cases were combined under Gebhart v. Belton and argued for desegregation under Brown in 1954. Bolling et al. v. Sharpe et al (District of Columbia) dealt with junior high school students who were refused entry to all-White schools. Finally Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, first argued independently in 1951, gave its name to the resulting historic Supreme Court decision under which the five school segregation cases were argued. The United States Supreme Court ruled on Brown in 1954, concluding that in the field of education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” was unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Although the cases were argued under the title Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, each case contributed equally to the 1954 landmark decision. Several explanations have been given for the order in which the cases were listed. Greenberg states that Brown was listed first based on the alphabetical listing of the cases and that Briggs, which would have been listed first, was initially sent back to trial court for further hearings and later added to the school segregation cases. Kluger argues that Brown was listed first in order to highlight a non-Southern state.

On May 31, 1955 in Brown Il, the Supreme Court defined the pace of integration by saying it should take place with “all deliberate speed.” National, state and local factors worked together to assure that the Brown decision did not end segregation in Virginia. Reaction to the Brown decision, especially in the South, was swift and negative. At that time, Virginia was ruled by the political machine led by U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd who responded by initiating a program of “massive resistance” which meant that schools would close rather than integrate. “Massive resistance,” practiced between 1954 and 1959, became part of Virginia’s political agenda and Democratic Party gubernatorial campaign platform, the state would “oppose it [integration] with every facility at our command, and with every ounce of our energy.”