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26 April 2021 SEPARATE NO MORE: THE LONG ROAD TO BROWN v. BOARD OF EDUCATION by Lawrence Goldstone, Scholastic Focus, January 2021, 288p., ISBN: 978-1-338-59283-2


“Up in the mornin’ and out to school

The teacher is teaching the Golden Rule

American history and practical math

You studyin’ hard and hopin’ to pass

Workin’ your fingers right down to the bone

The guy behind you won’t leave you alone”

-- Chuck Berry, “School Days” (1957) 

Chuck Berry grew up attending segregated schools in St. Louis, MO.


“Following the Brown v, Board of Education decision in 1954, the authorization of federal desegregation enforcement in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Supreme Court’s ruling in Green v, County School Board of New Kent County that district-level integration plans must meaningfully decrease segregation levels, the United States experienced a sharp decline in black-white school segregation, especially in the South. As desegregation gradually continued through the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, the pace progressively began to decelerate before slowing to a halt. Despite initial successes, the primary enforcers of desegregation--federal district courts and the federal Departments of Justice and Education--began to face headwinds in the form of changes in residential living patterns, school enrollments, Supreme Court precedents, and increasingly successful local efforts to resist integration.

The contemporary result of these trends is a highly segregated status quo.Yet scholars disagree over whether the broad trend in segregation has been stagnation or resegregation since the late 1980s.”

-- Will McGrew, “U.S School Segregation in the 21st Century: Causes, Consequences and Solutions” (2019)


Brown v. Board of Education is perhaps the most widely recognized Supreme Court case in American history. But for all its renown, most Americans know little about the case itself or the great changes in American society that propelled the Supreme Court to rule as it did. 

When Brown was argued, Plessy v. Ferguson was more than half a century old, and the crushing Jim Crow laws that the decision had enabled and affirmed had doomed black people throughout the South to a social, political, and economic environment that was simply slavery in a new form. African Americans were denied even the most fundamental rights of citizenship; were regularly jailed, brutalized, and murdered; and could not effectively access a legal system that bragged hollowly about guaranteeing equal rights to all. To make certain that black Americans would remain apart and inferior to whites, their children were forced into a two-tiered and wholly unequal system of education.”

-- from the Prologue


Did you know that Jackie Robinson’s number 42 is the only number retired by every Major League Baseball team?


If you want to learn the basic facts of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, you can check out the online Wikipedia article. But if you want to read a great story about the underpinnings of the modern Civil Rights Movement, a readily-accessible-yet-substantive examination of the people, organizations, events, laws, and court cases that culminated in the Brown rulings, you need to read Lawrence Goldstone’s SEPARATE NO MORE. It’s a book I highly recommend for middle and high school American history students, and for any teen or adult who is interested in the Civil Rights Movement.


The author begins the story in the late-19th century, when the U.S. Supreme Court’s despicable Plessy v. Ferguson decision legalized racial discrimination and led to the Jim Crow era. Booker T. Washington’s philosophy is examined against that of W.E.B. du Bois. We see the birth of the Niagara Movement and the founding and growth of the NAACP. We are introduced to Charles Hamilton Houston, who was the first Black student to edit the Harvard Law Review and who rose to become the Dean of Howard University School of Law. From there, he would eventually become the NAACP’s lead attorney.


The author surveys racist Supreme Court decisions, including Lum v. Rice (1927), which specifically focused on education. The Court’s decision in that case essentially permitted states to pass any laws they chose in order to “enforce a system that could not have been more obvious in its intent to discriminate.” The result? 


“By the 1930s, Alabama was spending $37 to educate a white child, but only $7 per student for African Americans. The figures in Georgia were $32 versus $7; in Mississippi, $31 and $6; and in South Carolina, $53 and $5.”


What kind of schooling do you get for $5 per kid? To read the author’s descriptions of conditions in many schools for Black kids before the Brown decision, is to understand why so few Black kids--no matter their aspirations--were able to obtain the kind of education necessary to broaden their options beyond field hand or servant. Black kids were being deliberately provided an education that would keep them in their place.


Into this mix came Howard University School of Law superstar-student Thurgood Marshall. Under the tutelage of Charles Houston, Marshall first became an attorney who helped Black clients with little resources. He eventually succeeded his mentor as the lead attorney of the NAACP. From this point, the last third of the book covers the better-known details of the Brown litigation. 


I’d previously read about many of the characters and events examined in SEPARATE NO MORE. But Lawrence Goldstone succeeds in presenting them in a manner that connects the dots and makes them far easier to understand. 


 SEPARATE NO MORE explains much about American history and how it relates to today’s racial injustices. It’s an excellent work of narrative nonfiction.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com






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