Racial segregation in the United States was challenged in two landmark Supreme Court cases. The first, Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) involved a Louisiana law segregating railroad cars. The second, and more famous, Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), centered on segregation in public schools, but both centered on whether or not segregation was constitutional. In Plessy, the court ruled that segregation was constitutional. However, nearly 60 years later, the court came to the opposite conclusion. This audio story includes interview clips with descendants of three of the important people from these two cases. Listen to hear how they learned about their connection to these landmark cases and how their lives have been impacted.
Story Length: 6:30
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People of all races from all over the country participated in desegregation demonstrations in the South in the 1960s. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called on clergy—religious leaders—from around the nation to participate in nonviolent protest demonstrations. These clergy joined a growing movement that would sweep the nation, demanding equal rights for people of color and creating a legacy of social change. Listen to hear the story of a Rabbi who participated in these marches and was arrested and threatened with violence.
Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas was only one of many schools being desegregated in accordance with the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. This public radio story describes the attempt by nine black students to integrate Central High School in 1957. But the protests against its desegregation made Central High the symbolic focus of white resistance to civil rights for black Americans.
On April 15, 1947 African American baseball player Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was an interesting choice for the Dodgers to break the race barrier in baseball because he was an older player and was not seen as the best player in the Negro league at the time. Listen to learn how Robinson’s strong character, as much as his talent, helped to successfully integrate baseball.
In 1963 there was tension in the South. African Americans were demanding the right to equal treatment under the law. They faced strong, often violent, opposition from Southern authorities. One such conflict arose at the University of Alabama. When the school admitted black students for the first time, Alabama’s governor George Wallace stood at the door to block their entrance. In doing so, he protested desegregation and clashed with President John F. Kennedy’s administration. Listen to hear more about George Wallace’s contentious views and his lasting impact on politics.
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