It was a cold morning on December 8, 1952, and I was watching the news on TV while eating a small bowl of cereal. They were talking about sports from the previous day and scrolling across the bottom of the TV was breaking news that said “The Supreme Court was hearing a huge case called ‘Brown v. Board of Education.’” They did not put a lot of information in the brief description of the case, but they did cover the main details of the case. It said that it was a disagreement over the segregated schools that were in Kansas. “What else is new?” I thought to myself. Soon after, the phone started ringing. It was so loud it sounded like sirens coming down the road. I went to go answer the phone.
“Abraham Thompson, hotel room 503, how can I help you?”
“Abraham? It’s Aaron from a couple rooms down the hall,” said the guy on the other end.
“Yes, I remember you. How are you doing? Did you fix the running water in your room?”
“Good and my water is working now, thanks. But did you watch the news this morning. There’s a big Supreme Court case that is going to be heard tomorrow?”
“How did you know? I was just watching that on TV too. Do you know what it’s about?” I replied.
“It sounds as if it’s supposed to be a big step in the right direction for our civil rights. I was planning to go to the court house tomorrow to see what they were talking about.”
“Do you plan on going alone or do you not mind if I come with you? I am interested in the details of the case just like you are.”
“Sure, you could come too. See you tomorrow morning.” He hung the phone up, and the call went silent.
When I woke up the next morning, I put on my blue dress pants and my black dress shirt with a tie. I met Aaron in the parking lot and we drove to the D.C. Courthouse. There was a lot of traffic that morning, so I thought we would be late. We made it to the courthouse with minutes to spare. When we entered the courthouse, I sat down next to Aaron while Judge was reading the background information of the case. To me, it sounded like a young girl from Topeka, Kansas was the basis of the trial. The problem started with how difficult it was for her to get to school. Every day, “Linda Carol Brown had to walk one mile through a railroad switchyard to get to her black elementary school, even though a white elementary school was only seven blocks away.” Once she crossed the railroad, she had to take an old bus to get to school. Her dad, Reverend Oliver Brown, was sickened at the fact that his 7 year old daughter had to walk a long way to get to this school when there was a school right up the street from their house. The reason for this was that at the time, Topeka, Kansas was segregated and as a result, Carol was only allowed to go to a school for black children only.
Since Reverend Brown was so furious about the situation, Reverend Brown took it upon himself to cause change so he took his case to the NAACP. They formed a plan, where they assembled a mix of 13 black parents from Topeka, Kansas and made them bring their kids to the school closest to their house. When the white-only schools refused to take in the students, the NAACP came to the conclusion that they had to take this case to the state courts. The group of students had James M. Nabrit, George E.C. Hayes, and Thurgood Marshall to speak on their behalf. They made the case that even though “Separate but Equal” was separate, it did not prove to be equal at all. Also, they argued that the white-only schools were not constructed with the same standards that the blacks were. The white-only schools were in way better condition when compared to the black schools. They were trying to make the point that having these kids work in these conditions was only breaking their bodies down mentally and physically. Even after the students made their dreadful case to the court, they supported what the schools were doing and confirmed that the schools were not demanded to admit black children. As a result, the NAACP appealed the decision and ended up getting a new hearing in D.C.
After the background of the case was read, the NAACP made their opening statements. Out of all the things said in the courtroom that day, I remember when Thurgood Marshall made a statement that took the air out of the whole courtroom. He looked at the Chief Justice and said,
“Like a cancer, segregation destroys the morale of our citizens and disfigures our country throughout the world.”
This made me change how I viewed the Civil Rights Movement. I finally started to feel like someone really understood what these people were going through. I said this because it is not easy for someone to make the statement in a courthouse when they know they will receive heavy criticism for their statement. This meant that Thurgood Marshall really believed in what he was trying to prove. It was at this moment when I realized that this was starting to become a very powerful case when it comes to the future of African Americans. This allowed me to put my trust in the NAACP to fight for these people and start the process of change for America.
The case was debated for 3 consecutive days. Aaron and I were in attendance every day. We were convinced that we were not going to miss any important information. Aaron struggles with focusing on the task at hand, so it was really funny to watch him be so concentrated, like he was watching the last minute of the NFL championship game between the L.A. Rams and Cleveland Browns. That day, the main question that needed to be answered was: does the segregation of students in public schools go against the 14th Amendment? The NAACP had very strong points that supported their case. One of them was that the education was not fair because the interactions that the other kids were having with other students while in schools only made them become smarter. This was different from how blacks were segregated from others and were severely punished if they tried to go against the law. Another argument that was made was that the process of segregation decreased the blacks’ self-esteem because it made them feel as if they were not good enough and someone else was more valuable than them. The NAACP also said that the Constitution allowed blacks to have equal facilities, but blacks were the only group affected by this amendment. As a follow up to their evidence, the NAACP asked the court to explain why blacks were asked to be treated differently even though there were other minority groups besides blacks. As a response to the question, the defense said that the “Separate but Equal” doctrine did not go against the 14th Amendment because it did allow “equal” facilities for all groups.
“That’s quite a brief response,” I said as I turned towards Aaron.
“I agree,” he replied. “You would think they would come more prepared for a huge case like this. All they do is prepare for cases, right?”
“I was laughing on the insides to Aaron’s reaction. He was never interested in topics such as court and law.
Even though the NAACP flooded the court with overwhelming facts and big arguments, at the end of the trial, the court could not come up with a decision. As a result, the case was dropped. For a long time, everyone thought the case was over and behind us. That was until a year later, when the case was tried again. On the afternoon of December 6, 1953, I was listening to the national radio on my way to work. The news reporter had just finished breaking the news about the Brown v. Board of Education case being looked at again. He said the case was going to be scheduled for the next morning. Before the news reporter could even finish what he was saying, I got a call from someone. I could not have been closer when guessing who it was going to be.
“Abraham Thompson, hotel room 503, how can I help you?”
“Guess who it is,” said the person on the other end, even though I knew it was Aaron.
“Why this must be Bob Cousy from the Boston Celtics!” I said, knowing I was being sarcastic.
“Good jokes Abraham. I think you could guess what I am calling for,” said Aaron.
“Yes, I am coming with you to the courthouse for the return of the Brown v. Board of Education,” I said.
“Well, I guess I will see you tomorrow,” he said, a little shocked that I was able to figure out what he was calling for.
“See you tomorrow then,” I responded, with a little chuckle in the background.
I was so excited for the next day. That was until the next day of the trial was completed. The background and facts were summarized again for the people that probably were not up to date on the case. The day after that was the same, and even with the NAACP pleading for a change in their stance, there was still no decision.
It was the morning of May 17th, 1954, when I was cleaning the house and watching the news. I was really into cleaning the house until the news reporter made a stunning news announcement. He said that the court had came to a decision for the Brown v. Board of Education case, and the decision would be released to the public at 5:30 this evening, at the D.C. Supreme Court. Now I am back to cleaning my house.
Around 4:45 in the afternoon, the clock got my attention. I ran out the door, got in the car, and I was on my way to the courthouse. Since Aaron and I talked the previous day, I assumed that he would be there around the same time that I got there. I arrived at the courthouse at 5:15. When I entered the courthouse, happy to be there on time, I saw Aaron in the middle of the room with very good seats. I sat in the seat right next to him.
“I see you got here early, right?” I asked.
“Very early, like 45 minutes early,” he told me with a smile on his face.
The Chief Justice started to make his way up to the stand to announce the court’s decision and as he got closer, the whole courthouse went completely silent.
“We come, then, to the question presented: Does segregation of children in public schools solely on race, even though physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe it does…We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has not place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.”
After the decision was announced, nearly everyone in the courtroom was on their feet and giving the Chief Justice applause. There were cheers coming from all sides of the courtroom. I made eye contact with Aaron and he was very enthusiastic about the decision. He was on his feet clapping and yelling as if he had received the gift of his life. At this moment, I realized how this decision meant to people. The Chief Justice announced the vote and it was a unanimous decision in favor of Brown. The court said that education was required to achieve basic civil responsibilities and without this education, Brown would not be able to succeed as a citizen. The court also ordered that all opportunities provided by the state must be accessible to all people. This is the decision that finally demanded all states to end racial segregation. As a result, racial segregation became unconstitutional. From this point on, schools were mixed with multiple races. The changes were good to see.
After the decision of the case was announced, everybody started leaving the courthouse. Aaron and I were on our way to the exit and we saw the lawyers that were part of the NAACP. They were honoring each other for the excellent job that they did for the people. I was just as excited for them as I was for myself.
“I am so excited for our future as a country because I think this was meant to happen a long time ago. At the same time, I cannot argue with the final decision because it is going to be the basis for more changes to come,” I said.
Aaron responded, “This is what America is supposed to be like. The future of our country is limitless.”