Do African American Students have equal Chances in the American educational System? Tracing the Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement

Pre-University Paper, 2022

25 Pages, Grade: 14 P



Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The situation of African American students before and the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement
2.1 The separate but equal doctrine
2.2 Influences of the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case of 1954
2.3 The affect of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the education of African American students
2.4 Having one foot in each world, but still being alienated from both

3. Today’s conditions in schools for African American students
3.1 Reasons for the achievement of racial equality in schools
3.2 Segregation of school districts
3.3 African American student’s perception of higher education barriers

4. Are there equal chances for African American students?

5. How to solve the problems?
5.1 Resource Equalization
5.2 Raising standards for teachers
5.3 Addressing the school-to-prison pipeline

6. Conclusion .

7. Sources

1. Introduction:

It is common knowledge how African Americans had to face severe discrimination in American history, but after many years of only talking about the achievements from the CRM, protestors raised their voices again to draw attention to the injustice of today’s society. Especially with the BLM protest racism became an important topic again, which lead me to question other aspects of American society besides police brutality as well. In particular, the educational system raised my interest, considering how people my age, who should normally have similar experiences, grow up in completely different circumstances, where only the color of their skin is enough to influence how they get perceived and treated by others. Indeed I not only chose my topic to draw more attention to the current conditions under which African American students learn and to highlight the importance of the general issue, but also to further educate myself. I am convinced that to actually change our society to a more understanding and truly equal one, we need to learn about the history of others and their problems, even if these don’t have a direct impact on our own lives. That’s the reasoning behind my thesis: “Tracing the Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement in the American educational system – equal chances for African American students”. For a general understanding of why the question if African American students have the same chances as everyone else is even relevant, I started my research paper with the historic background, including the situation before the Civil Rights Movement and what changed afterward, especially concentrating on the major court case “Brown v. Board of Education”, which made separation in public facilities unconstitutional. So if after the movement everyone is supposed to get treated equally under the law, it may be easy to assume that African Americans must have the same opportunities but unfortunately, it is not that easy. Several studies try to find out whether segregation of school districts, higher education barriers, poverty rates and so on really affect the education of black students, leading me to also analyze their influences on the final question, if the educational system provides African Americans with the same opportunities as privileged white students. After explaining the current situation and researching further studies, I therefore conclude if black students have the same chances or not. Finally, I am going to give examples of the most important changes required to solve the problems black students are confronted with today, to assure that everyone has an equal start in life, preventing further racial discrimination and hurdles of African Americans, which often root in an unequal start early in life. Lastly, it was particularly challenging to lower down the different aspects you need to consider to decide if African American students have equal chances, due to all the different factors that impact whether you academically succeed or not.

2. The Situation of African American students before and the achievement’s of the Civil Rights Movement

2.1 The Separate but equal doctrine

In 1896 the Supreme Court decided that racially segregated public facilities were legal under the Constitution, as long as they were judged equal for African Americans and whites, leading to African Americans being highly disadvantaged. The new “Jim Crow” laws now officially barred African Americans from sharing the same buses, schools and other public facilities as privileged whites for over sixty years1.

But after many years of discrimination, the National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) worked forcefully to fight the “Jim Crow laws”, which caused African Americans to get treated like second-class citizens2. To prove that segregation harms black students the lawyers started to carefully pick school cases they thought could potentially be won in court, especially challenged segregation laws in public schools all over the US. In the following years, they filed multiple lawsuits on behalf of disadvantaged African American children and their worried parents, in states such as Kansas, Delaware and South Carolina3 (also including a state from the Deep South, “where inequalities were glaring”4 ).

Later on, in 1953 five school cases from four different states and the district of Columbia were combined for argument and decision from the Supreme Court, but a movement from the second case to the top caused all five to get filed under the name “Brown vs. Board of Education” on accident, leading the case of Linda Carol Brown to become the namesake of all combined cases5. In the nowadays most famous case of Linda Brown, her worried father “filed a class-action suit against the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas in 1951”6, where he argued that segregation in school violated the equal protection clause of the first section from the 14th Amendment7, which includes that no state in the US is allowed to “[…] deny to any person within jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws”8.

Despite the still legal segregation in all elementary schools in Topeka, Kansas 1950, he tried to enroll his daughter in the Summer Elementary school, not because of the (at that time) very common disadvantage of the equipment in integrated schools, but instead because of an unsafe way to school. Everyday life of young Linda already included a six blocks long walk beneath a railroad, followed by a 30 minutes ride to school in an overcrowded bus and afterward still waiting outside in the cold in front of the school building for her lessons to begin, even though Summer Elementary was only seven blocks away from her home. Linda was by far not the only African American kid who had to struggle with such an unacceptable situation, which is why her father was convinced something had to change9.

Nonetheless, Linda Brown was declined from the school, which lead to several other cases from the same community in Kansa getting filed together and going into trial on June 25, 1951, to fight the schools’ segregation, without a focus on the physical school buildings, which were compared to buildings in the Deep South almost equal to white schools. In spite of a lack of support from the local community, hindered by fear from the black teachers about not being allowed to teach in white schools and therefore losing their jobs, the lawyers went into court and argued that segregation not only meant unequal facilities but also “wounded children psychologically for life”10 and underlined how dangerous the great distances young children had to travel to reach heir integrated schools are.

Furthermore, the black children were denied opportunities to associate with white children, leading the separation to again disproportionately affect black children, because they felt a sense of inferiority, which often lead to a lack of motivation and to too little understanding for each other later on in life11.

On August 3, 1951, the court then announced their final decision for this court case and although the lawyers lost, one of them wrote that “in that lost were the seeds of ultimate victory”12.

2.2 Influences of the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case of 1954

The Supreme Court case that is known as “Brown v. Board of Education” was actually the combination of the five separate cases, which were judged by the court concerning the issues of racial segregation in public schools all over the US and even though all of the cases consisted of different situations, the main issue in each stayed the same: the legal segregation in public schools.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Briggs v. Elliot, Davis v. Board of Education of Prince Edward County (VA.), Bolling v. Sharpe and Gebhart v. Ethel

In all of the cases above a three-judge panel at the U.S. District Court ruled in favor of the school boards, but the plaintiffs weren’t willing to give up and consequently appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where they were filed and judged together. After a long difficult process and a second hearing the court “conclude[d] that in the field of public education the doctrine ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal […]”13.

On May 17th, 1954 the Supreme Court was able to mark a turning point in the history of race relationships in the United States with its decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case and finally “made equal opportunity the law of the land”14. Additionally, it entitles all students to receive a high-quality education regardless of their race and beyond that even allowed African American teachers to work in any public school, whether they were integrated or not. Moreover, the Supreme Court ruling also set the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement and gave African Americans hope that “separate, but equal” in all public facilities could change, unfortunately “desegregation was not that easy and is a project that has not been finished, even today”15. Nonetheless the Brown v. Board of Education decision “broke the silence” and “ made the country start talking about racism and segregation and discrimination and second-class citizenship”16. But now that separate facilities for white and black children were not legal anymore, are there truly the same chances for African American students and is desegregation everything African Americans needed for “an equal start in life”17 ?

2.3 The affect of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on the education of African American students

“The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. […] The Act prohibited discrimination in public accommodations and federally funded programs. It also strengthened the enforcement of voting rights and the desegregation in schools.”18

Although the Brown v. Board of Education case was supposed to ultimately end school segregation, changes were only made in the promised “all deliberate speed”19 and had to face a lot of resistance. Black students, to a large degree, still attended the same schools, with “substandard facilities, out of date text books and no basic school supplies”20. In 1964, a full decade after the decision, only two southern states (Tennessee and Texas) had more than 2 percent of black students registered in integrated schools and more than 98 percent of black children in the South still attended segregated schools. However only a year after the Civil Rights Act already about 6 percent of the black students in the South were students in integrated schools21 and the integration of southern school districts was finally really progressing. “By 1967 22% of the [African American] students in the 17 southern and border states were”22 visiting integrated schools and that figure even reached 90 percent by 1973.23

Despite more and more African American students visiting the same schools as whites, especially the first African Americans to break the old restraints needed a lot of courage since not everybody was happy with the new changes. One of the most famous examples are the little Rock nine, who got “escorted by United States Army tropes [to] enter the all-white Central High School despite threats from Governor Orval Faubus”24.

However, now that the official barriers were broken down “people would have to obey [the new laws]”25 and African American students must finally get accepted in former all white schools, because that’s how things worked in America, right?26

2.4 Having one foot in each world but still being alienated from both

Regardless of the common belief that “getting an education in an all white school would give [African American children] greater opportunities”27, the victory had to face a lot of backlash and black children often struggled to compete with white children “without any special consideration”28 of the disadvantages they have been exposed to for prior years.

Some students were greeted by angry mobs of whites who tried to prevent them from attending school, they had to face racial tension, violence and the list goes on, but for many the worst part was the shame they had to face from their own black communities.29

Gayle Jenkins, the first African American student to attend the former white Bogalusa Junior High School in Louisiana in 1967, representing many others who bravely took the same step, for example recalls how he had one foot in each world, but still felt alienated from both: “(…) I caught a lot of slack, like, from the black community, because they used to say, ‘Oh, you think you’re something because you’re going to the white school.’ They didn’t know I was catching holy hell at the white school. I had no friends, you know. So, it was just always a conflict.”30

Besides feeling unwanted, alienation in school also comes along with a low attachment to the student body, a lack of identification with learning and an emotional detachment from academic milestones31.

While Brown v. Board of Education and many other legal cases were able to break down the official barriers for black students to reach an equal education, genuinely accomplishing this ideal has never been effortless. “The debate continues today among policymakers, educators and parents about how to close the achievement gap between minority and white children”32. So are there indeed equal chances for African American students or are the burdens they have to face at present, simply not violating the Constitution and therefore better hidden under the surface than before the Cicil Rights Movement?

3. Today’s conditions in schools for African American students

3.1 Reasons for the achievement of racial equality in schools

It is common knowledge that today’s society has a moral obligation to ensure that all children, without consideration of their social background, nationality or ethnicity, receive an adequate education in school, which provides them with the best skills for a fair start in life. Furthermore, the ideal includes that the standard of education received by each individual child should not depend on the wealth and education of their family, nor the child’s social, racial or geographic background, because everyone deserves the same education, no matter the circumstances.

Apart from achieving racial equality in schools because of moral beliefs, others might also argue that it’s a desirable goal, since preventing school failure is important to “secure a productive workspace and economics growth”33 in the U.S.

Furthermore, high skilled individuals increase their employability and productivity. Moreover, cognitive skills learned early in life have been “strongly associated with economic growth over the last four decades”34 and an ample education has also been “associated with entrepreneurship and thus with increasing social mobility”35. Investing in equal education in particular could help to reduce the number of young people without employment, further education or training, who are often from a minority background and usually remain unskilled for the rest of their lives and as a result, end up paying fewer taxes36.

To sum up, racial equality is important to remove still existing barriers so all students can succeed, thanks to the same resources and a functioning support system. Achieving racial equality therefore needs to be a priority in American society.


1 Cp. editors, 2022

2 Cp. Ibidem; cf. Susan Goldman Rubin: Brown v. Board of Education - A FIGHT FOR SIMPLE JUSTICE, holiday house publishing, inc. New York 2016, p.3 ( in the following referred to as “ Brown v. Board of Education”)

3 Cp. editors 2022; cf. the brown foundation

4 Brown v. Board of Education, p.24

5 Cp. Ibidem, p. 12

6 editors, 2022

7 Ibidem

8 Brown c. Board of Education, p. 110

9 Cp. Brown v. Board of Education, p.12-18

10 Ibidem, p. 20

11 Ibidem, p.23

12 Brown v. Board of Education, p.23

13 Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts; cf. Brown vs. Board of Education

14 A Collective effort of the staff of the National Museum of the American History, Behring Center; cf. Marshall’s closing Statement

15 Derrick Meador, 2019

16 Brown vs. Board of Education, p.93

17 Ibidem, p. 95

18 Office of the Assistant secretary for Administration & Management

19 Cf. Brown v. Board of Education, p. 83

20 Sarah Pruitt, 2018

21 Cp. Infoplease 2012

22 Ibidem

23 Cp. Sarah Pruitt, 2018

24 Brown v. Board of Education, timeline p. 104

25 Ibidem p.86

26 Cf. Ibidem p.85

27 Brown v. Board of Education p.88

28 Ibidem, p. 90

29 Cf. Ibidem p.89-93

30 Library of Congress (Interview with Gayle Jenkins)

31 Cp. Andreas Hadjar, 2013

32 Library of Congress

33 OECD, 2012, p.24

34 Ibidem

35 Ibidem

36 Ibidem, p.25

Excerpt out of 25 pages


Do African American Students have equal Chances in the American educational System? Tracing the Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement
Gymnasium Am Deutenberg Villingen-Schwenningen
14 P
Catalog Number
CRM, civil rights movement, equality, school system, african american, education, BLM, Brown v. Board of education, suprem court, students, usa, united states, school, school to prison pipeline, Black, Racism, Inequality
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2022, Do African American Students have equal Chances in the American educational System? Tracing the Legacy of the Civil Rights Movement, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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