Many people who have taken an American history class probably learned about Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found racially segregated schools to be unconstitutional.
What University of Delaware Professor Leland Ware wants people to
know more about is what came before and after the Brown case and how a
century of legal action on civil rights continues to shape lives today.
“I think everybody knows about Brown, but I don’t think
everybody knows about the 10 to 15 years that led up to it,” Ware said. “There were years of lawsuits over segregation in public schools and in
graduate and professional education, including legal action against the
University of Delaware.”
To provide that historical context, Ware, the Louis L. Redding Chair
for the Study of Law and Public Policy at UD, has written a new book, A Century of Segregation: Race, Class and Disadvantage. Published by Lexington Books in late 2018, A Century of Segregation has been praised by reviewers as “well-crafted, provocative and insightful” and providing “a wake-up call to all Americans.”
In the book, Ware said, he seeks to explain “how race, class and
spatial isolation intersect in ways that uniquely disadvantage African
Americans and other racial minorities.”
He begins with the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision, in which
the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation was legal if the
separate facilities for whites and blacks were equal. But, Ware points
out, from hospitals to schools to graveyards, “facilities for blacks
were always separate but never equal.”
He goes on to trace the efforts by the NAACP to challenge school
segregation, beginning in the 1930s, through a long-term campaign of
“equalization” lawsuits demanding that schools for black children be
improved to the same standards as those for white students. The eventual
result was Brown v. Board of Education, followed in the 1960s by civil rights activism and legislation and, in 1968, the Supreme Court’s Green v. School Board of New Kent County decision insisting that schools stop delaying and immediately desegregate.
Although most of the book deals with entrenched racism in educational
policies, Ware also includes a chapter on housing discrimination. He
focuses on the growth of America’s suburbs from 1950-75, noting that
redlining and other discriminatory policies prevented most African
Americans from moving to these new developments.
“Segregation in the suburbs virtually guaranteed school segregation,”
Ware said. “Instead of just writing about schools or about housing, I
wanted to show how these two issues interact to perpetuate
Public schools today, he said, are as segregated as they were 50 years ago.
A Century of Segregation concludes with an examination of
racial disparities today, which Ware said remain stark, although
conditions for ethnic minorities as a whole have improved in recent
“For those able to take advantage of the opportunities created by the
Civil Rights revolution, the gains have been dramatic,” Ware said. “For
those left behind in the nation’s impoverished communities, the
obstacles to advancement are more daunting today than they were a
Article by Ann Manser; photo by Kathy F. Atkinson