THE ROAD TO BROWN: A Historical Examination of School Segregation and America's Need for 'Brown'

Shantella Y. Sherman | 6/19/2013, 3 p.m.
Racial prejudice could easily be viewed as the dominant social experience faced by both African Americans and immigrants before the ...

Even more disturbing than the general disorganization of segregated education was the psychological consequence of being deemed inferior. A fact-finding report on the effects of prejudice, discrimination and segregation on the personality development of children was prepared as a basis for portions of the deliberations of Brown during the Mid-century White House Conference on Children and Youth. This report, along with the earth-shattering results of Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s “Doll Tests”, became critical instruments in dismantling school segregation.

The former found that segregation, prejudice, and their social equivalents had the ability to damage personalities of both those being discriminated against and those engaged in racist and prejudiced behaviors. The result: Those discriminated against become confused about their own self-worth.

“Like all other human beings [the Negro children] require a sense of personal dignity; on the other hand, almost no where in the larger society do they find their own dignity as human beings respected by others … He wonders whether his group and he himself are worthy of no more respect than they receive. This conflict and confusion leads to self-hatred and rejection of [their] own group,” the authors concluded.

The Supreme Court agreed with these findings, writing in the Brown decision that: “Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of Negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system.”