Fulfilling the Promise

Howard University

School of Law

Brown@50:  Annotated Chronology

© Steven D. Jamar 2003, 2004, 2008

This chronology includes many items of general importance in the long march to equality, but it is not intended to be complete. The first item fairly closely related to Brown by topic is a 1849 Massachusetts case in which the Massachusetts Supreme Court stated that separate but equal was permissible. The Massachusetts legislature overturned that decision six years later. Chronology entries generally become more directly related to Brown starting with Plessy in 1896.

With respect to 20th and 21st century events, this chronology emphasizes law, and most particularly cases. Most of the cases noted from Plessy to Brown are important antecedent cases showing the development of the ideas leading to Brown while most of the cases after 1955 show the evolution of and application of principles after Brown, like the idea of affirmative action.

Not included in this chronology are the many instances in which the precedent of Brown and the strategy of the NAACP and the Civil Rights Movement were adapted to other struggles such as the struggle for equality for women and the struggle for equality for gays and lesbians.

Nonetheless, there are several threads of cases and other events in the chronology.  For entries after the Civil War, the threads have been roughly categorized and color coded according to the following scheme:

Color Coding for Threads of Post-Civil War Civil Rights Events


This is the largest group.  It includes cases and other matters concerning education directly before and after Brown as well as the Brown and consolidated cases themselves.

Actions Affecting Equality Broadly

Many important events led to and derived from Brown, including the ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868 and the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, respectively.


Part of the strategy of Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall was to establish the principle that separate-but-equal was not lawful in some contexts and then push those precedents in other areas.  One of the major targets and fields of success was in transportation.  E.g., Steele v. Louisville & Nashville Ry. Co., 323 U.S. 192 (1944).  Not coincidentally, Plessy was a transportation case.


Another target was housing. Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948), building on the earlier decision in Buchanan v. Warley, 245 U.S. 60 (1917).


The relationship of voting rights to equality is direct.

Jury Selection

One of the earliest cases undermining discrimination was in jury selection.  Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303 (1880).

Other Events

Some events relate directly to the struggle for equality.  A few others in this group are included merely to provide a broader social context.

This chronology builds on the work of many others, of course, as will be obvious from the many links to various authorities. The compilation of this timeline is primarily the work of Prof. Steven D. Jamar with substantial and invaluable assistance from HUSL librarians Tracey Woodward and Eileen Santos. Many others have made helpful suggestions as well.




Spain approves the importation of Africans to be enslaved in the Western Hemisphere (authority)


First African slaves arrive in the Western Hemisphere on a cargo ship from Portugal (authority)


African slaves revolt for the first time on a sugar mill in the Dominican Republic (authority)


England enters the slave trade--Sir John Hawkins of England imports 300 slaves to Brazil (authority)


Twenty slaves arrive in Jamestown, Virginia, making them the first slaves to arrive in North America (authority)


First African slaves brought for sale in British Colonies


Abda, a slave whose mother was a slave and whose father was white, sues his owner, Thomas Richards, pleading that he has been unlawfully enslaved due to his white heritage. Abda loses the case on appeal and is re-enslaved and sent back to Thomas Richards.(authority)


U.S. Declaration of Independence. Section condemning slavery (authored by Virginia slave owner Thomas Jefferson) is dropped at the insistence of Georgia and South Carolina. (authority)


Vermont Constitution bans slavery(authority)


U.S. Peace Treaty with England confirms independence of the U.S. (Treaty of Paris) (authority)


Northwest Ordinance art. 6 abolishes slavery in the Northwest Territories


U.S. Constitution 3/5's compromise (Const. art. I §2) and Fugitive Slave Act (Const. art. IV §2)


Bill of Rights ratified


Fugitive Slave Act adopted to enforce Constitutional provision


Importation of slaves banned U.S. Constitution art. I §9, clause 1; art. 5


Missouri Compromise outlaws slavery everywhere in the Louisiana Purchase north of the southern border of Missouri, but allowed Missouri to be a slave state.


Indian Removal Act requiring removal of all surviving Native Americans in the eastern United States to reservations west of the Mississippi.


The Cherokees challenged the Indian Removal Act in court, resulting in a decision by Chief Justice John Marshall and the Supreme Court in their favor. Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. 515 (1832).  Upon hearing of the Court's decision, President Jackson is reputed to have said, "John Marshall has made his decision. Let him enforce it now if he can."


Trail of Tears: Ignoring the Supreme Court decision holding the 1830 Indian Removal Act illegal, President Jackson forcibly relocates the Cherokee Nation from Georgia to Oklahoma.


The Amistad, 40 U.S. (16 Pet.) 518 (1840): Supreme Court holds that free Africans kidnapped to be sold as slaves are still free.


Prigg v. Pennsylvania, 41 U.S. (16 Pet.) 539 (1842): Supreme Court declares unconstitutional a Pennsylvania statute intended to prevent slave owners from using self-help to return fugitive slaves.


Roberts v. City of Boston, 59 Mass. 198 (1849): Massachusetts Supreme Court declares separate black and white schools legal


Compromise of 1850 strengthens 1793 Fugitive Slave Act


Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 repeals the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and opens the west to slavery with each state to be permitted to choose slavery or not under the notion of "popular sovereignty." This action helped galvanize anti-slavery sentiment in the North.


Massachusetts overturns the effect of Roberts v. City of Boston, 59 Mass. 198 (1849) by abolishing segregated schools legislatively. (authority)


Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. 393, 19 How. 393 (1857): Infamous decision overturning the "Missouri Compromise" and holding that slaves and descendants of slaves are not and cannot be citizens of the United States, but rather are a form of property.


Civil War (online references)

Jan. 1, 1863

Emancipation Proclamation takes effect


Civil War ends (online references)


Black Codes begin to be enacted across the South to keep African Americans in peonage (authority)

Dec. 6, 1865

13th Amendment ratified (banning slavery)


Civil Rights Act provides federal guarantee of rights to contract, to own property, and to sue


Howard University Founded


KKK founded in Nashville, Tennessee

July 9, 1868

14th Amendment ratified (requiring states to grant citizenship rights to all citizens and due process and equal protection to all persons)


Howard University School of Law founded


15th Amendment ratified (voting)


Slaughter House Cases, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36 (1872): Supreme Court limits the scope of federal power and reach under the 14th Amendment by ruling that the federal government cannot protect state citizens from actions by their own states


Civil Rights Act of 1875


End of Reconstruction (authority)


Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303 (1880): Supreme Court holds that states are prohibited from excluding blacks from juries by the Fourteenth Amendment


Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3 (1883): Supreme Court holds unconstitutional the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and holds that the 14th Amendment does not prohibit discrimination by private persons


Florida passes law requiring segregation; Jim Crow laws follow throughout the South


Louisiana passes a Jim Crow law mandating separate but equal accommodations on railroads for blacks and whites (leading ultimately to the Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson,163 U.S. 537 (1896))


Between 1889 and 1920, at least 3,107 people, predominantly African Americans, are murdered by lynching


Plessy v. Ferguson,163 U.S. 537 (1896): Upholds separate-but-equal law of Louisiana


Cumming v. Richmond County Board of Education, 175 U.S. 528 (1899): Public school education is a matter for state regulation, not federal government; local school district can close black school while keeping two white schools open on fiscal grounds


Giles v. Harris, 189 U.S. 475 (1903): Supreme Court permits black disenfranchisement through state voter registration regulations


Berea College v. Kentucky, 211 U.S. 45 (1908): Supreme Court rules that private schools are bound by state segregation laws


NAACP Founded


Buchanan v. Warley, 245 U.S. 60 (1917): State-mandated residential segregation violates the 14th Amendment


KKK revives


Corrigan v. Buckley, 271 U.S. 323 (1926): Private racial restrictive covenants in Washington, DC in housing upheld (case dismissed for lack of substantial federal question under federal Due Process (5th Amendment) and Equal Protection (14th Amendment) clauses)


Gong Lum v. Rice, 275 U.S. 78 (1927): States can define racial classifications for schools; separate-but-equal logic used


Charles Hamilton Houston becomes special counsel to the NAACP


Pearson v. Murray,182 A. 590 (Md. 1936): Maryland Court of Appeals holds that University of Maryland law school must grant admission to African Americans (Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall win the case against the very school that had earlier refused admission to Marshall on the basis of race)


Missouri ex rel Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337 (1938): Missouri must offer African-Americans substantially equal legal education which in effect requires admission of African-Americans to Missouri's all white law school


NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund established under leadership of Thurgood Marshall


Alston v. School Board of Norfolk, Va., 112 F.2d 992 (4th Cir.), cert. denied 311 U.S. 693 (1940): African American teachers must be paid the same as white teachers


Executive Order 8802: Pres. Roosevelt bars segregation by defense contractors


Westminster School District v. Mendez, 161 F.2d 774 (9th Cir. 1947): Schools segregating Mexican American students from white students held unconstitutional.  Consequently, California repeals law requiring segregation of Native American and Asian American students.


Steele v. Louisville & Nashville Ry. Co., 323 U.S. 192 (1944): Union representatives under federal Railway Labor Act cannot discriminate on the basis of race in representing employees.  


Sipuel v. Board of Regents of Oklahoma, 332 U.S. 631 (1948): State law schools cannot discriminate against African Americans


Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948): Racial restrictive covenants in private housing violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


Perez v. Lippold (aka Perez v. Sharp), 32 Cal. 2d 711, 198 P.2d 17 (1948): California's ban on interracial marriage violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


United Nations adopts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights


Executive Orders 9980 & 9981:  Pres. Truman orders end of discriminatory employment practices by the federal government and orders desegregation of the military, respectively


McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 339 U.S. 637 (1950): Student in graduate school of education must be treated equally; cannot have separate assigned seating in classrooms, library, etc.


Henderson v. United States, 339 U.S. 816 (1950): segregation on interstate railroad dining cars violates the Interstate Commerce Act which made it unlawful for an interstate railroad to subject a passenger to undue or unreasonable disadvantage


Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950): Legal education cannot be separate and equal so African American must be admitted to University of Texas law school; the separate law school was not equal


Brown v. Board of Education: case decided in lower court in Arkansas which became the lead case in the four cases consolidated for appeal in Brown I


Briggs v. Elliot: South Carolina case, one of the four cases consolidated for appeal in Brown I


Davis v. County School Board or Prince Edward County Virginia: Virginia case, one of the four cases consolidated for appeal in Brown I


Gebhart v. Belton: Delaware case, one of the four cases consolidated for appeal in Brown I


Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) (Brown I): Plessy overturned; separate-but-equal violates the 14th Amendment guarantee of Equal Protection


Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497 (1954): Separate-but-equal violates the Fifth Amendment guarantee of due process; consolidated with Brown for consideration of remedies (Brown II)


Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U.S. 294 (1955)(Brown II): Desegregation ordered to proceed with "all deliberate speed"


Emmett Till lynched


Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott; Martin Luther King Jr. emerges as a leader


President Eisenhower orders National Guard to Little Rock, Arkansas, to escort nine black students to Central H.S. to enforce Brown (authority)


NAACP v. Alabama (1958): Under the right of privacy and freedom of association, the Supreme Court protects NAACP membership rolls from disclosure


Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958): Reaffirms Brown as the law of the land nationwide and explicitly states the duty of state office holders to follow it.  Pres. Eisenhower, unlike Pres. Jackson with the Cherokees, followed the Supreme Court's decision in Brown.


Prince Edward County, Virginia, closes all of its public schools rather than desegregate them (see Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, 377 U.S. 218 (1964))


Sit-ins at segregated lunch counters


Boynton v. Virginia, 364 U.S. 454 (1960): African American has a federal statutory right to be served without discrimination at a restaurant located in an interstate bus terminal.


Freedom Rides to integrate Southern bus terminals


Meredith v. Fair, 298 F.2d 696 (5th Cir. 1962): Forced integration of Ole Miss


Birmingham campaign to end segregation leads to police riots


Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, 377 U.S. 218 (1964): The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits appropriating public money to support private, segregated education


Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans discrimination in voting, places of public accommodation, schools, and employment


Voting Rights Act


Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967): Virginia's ban on interracial marriages is unconstitutional.


Thurgood Marshall appointed to the Supreme Court


Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated


Fair Housing Act bans discrimination in housing


Green v. County School Board of New Kent County (Va.), 391 U.S. 430 (1968): Mandates the elimination of the vestiges of segregation "root and branch."


Seven years after President Kennedy challenges the United States to land on the moon by the end of the decade, Neil Armstrong does so.


Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education, 396 U.S. 19 (1969): After fourteen years, the Brown II standard of "all deliberate speed" is held no longer constitutionally permissible. The Court wrote: "The obligation of every school district is to terminate dual school systems at once and to operate now and hereafter only unitary schools . . . [--] schools in which no person is to be effectively excluded . . . because of race or color. "


Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1 (1971): Busing to achieve desegregation is permitted by the Supreme Court


Wright v. City of Emporia, 407 U.S.451 (1972) and U.S. v. Scotland Neck City Bd. of Educ., 413 U.S. 455 (1972): States cannot avoid desegregation orders by school district gerrymandering.


Norwood v. Harrison, 413 U.S. 455 (1973): States cannot avoid desegregation orders by providing textbooks to racially segregated private schools.


San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1 (1973): Education is not a fundamental right under the Constitution and the Constitution does not require egalitarian funding of schools by the state across local school district lines


Keyes v. Denver School District No. 1, 413 U.S. 921 (1973): Absent an intention to discriminate, mere de facto segregation in schools arising from uncoordinated private decisions about where to live does not violate equal protection


Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717 (1974)(Milliken I): Interdistrict desegregation plans are not constitutional


Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229 (1976): Equal Protection Clause limited to intentional discrimination


Pasadena City Bd. of Educ. v. Spangler, 427 U.S. 424 (1976): Once a school system complies with the demands of equal protection, it does not need to annually readjust school attendance to insure a proportional racial balance at each school.


Milliken v. Bradley, 433 U.S. 267 (1977) (Milliken II): State can be required to fund desegregation plans


Bakke v. Regents of the University of California, 438 U.S. 265 (1978): Affirmative action -- schools can take race into account in admissions, but cannot use quotas


Fullilove v. Klutznick, 448 U.S. 448 (1980): Supreme Court upholds an affirmative action program for federal contractors (pdf)


Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986): Supreme Court extends to peremptory challenges the holding of the 1880 case of Strauder v. West Virginia that states are prohibited from excluding blacks from juries by the Fourteenth Amendment


Riddick v. School Board of the City of Norfolk, Va. 784 F.2d 521 (4th Cir. 1986): School district declared desegregated and reverts to local control with elimination of desegregation plan (pdf)


Kadrmas v. Dickinson Public Schools, 487 U.S. 450 (1988): Supreme Court reaffirms that education is not a fundamental right under the United States Constitution (pdf)

Clarence Thomas is the second African American to be appointed to the United States Supreme Court


Board of Education of Oklahoma City v. Dowell, 498 U.S. 237 (1991): School districts can stop busing when they become resegregated because of private housing choices and when all "practicable" steps have been taken to eliminate segregation


Freeman v. Pitts, 503 U.S. 467 (1992): "Where resegregation is a product not of state action but of private choices, it does not have constitutional implications. . . .  It is beyond the authority and beyond the practical ability of the federal courts to try to counteract these kinds of continuous and massive demographic shifts."


U.S. v. Fordice, 505 U.S. 717 (1992): Supreme Court requires Mississippi to dismantle its continuing dual system of colleges and universities (pdf)


Missouri v. Jenkins, 515 U.S. 70 (1995) (Jenkins II): Limits the ability of urban schools to attract suburban school students (pdf)


Adarand Constructors v. Peña, 515 U.S. 200 (1995): Supreme Court holds that strict scrutiny must be applied to all racial classifications by the federal government, both "benign" and "invidious." (pdf)


Hopwood v. Texas, 78 F.3d 932 (5th Cir. 1996): Fifth Circuit rules affirmative action plan in Texas universities unconstitutional; Supreme Court refuses to review the case. (pdf)


California adopts Proposition 209 banning all forms of affirmative action


Ninth Circuit affirms constitutionality of Proposition 209; Supreme Court declines to hear the case


30 years of court-supervised desegregation ends in Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district


Grutter v. Bollinger (pdf), 539 U.S. 306 (2003): Race may be one factor taken into account in an affirmative action program for law schools where selection is individualized on multiple criteria.


Gratz v. Bollinger (pdf), 539 U.S. 244 (2003): Affirmative action program based on race for college without individualized assessment held unconstitutional.


Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1 (pdf), 539 U.S. 244 (2003): Affirmative action program for elementary and secondary schools based on race held unconstitutional as implemented.

 Prepared for Howard University and
Howard University School of Law - 2900 Van Ness Street, NW, Washington, DC 20008 - (202) 806-8000
 Webmaster / Contacts - WWW Disclaimer