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Brown v Board of Education of Topeka landmark court case of 1954 in which the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously declared that it was unconstitutional to create separate schools for children on the basis of race The Brown ruling ranks as one of the most important Supreme Court decisions of the 20th century At the time of the decision 17 southern states and the District of Columbia required that all public schools be racially segregated A few northern and western states including Kansas left the issue of segregation up to individual school districts While most schools in Kansas were integrated in 1954 those in Topeka were not Racial segregation in Southern public schools dates to the 1860s Before the American Civil War began in 1861 a number of northern states also allowed or required segregated schools However throughout the 19th century more than 95 percent of all blacks lived in the South so segregation there affected an overwhelming majority of Americas black population After the Civil War ended in 1865 and especially after the end of Reconstruction in 1877 the South continued to segregate its schools and other facilities In the influential case of Plessy v Ferguson 1896 the Supreme Court upheld the practice of segregation as long as the separate facilities were equal By 1900 the South was an entirely segregated society In 1909 blacks and whites led by W E B DuBois and Arthur and Joel Spingarn formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People NAACP an organization dedicated to fighting for racial equality and ending segregation The NAACP challenged segregation through its Legal Defense and Education Fund From 1936 to 1950 the organization won a number of cases leading to the desegregation of law schools and other professional schools at segregated universities in Mississippi Maryland Oklahoma and Texas The NAACP also had some success in forcing states to equalize public school funding and to pay teachers in black
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