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Landmark Cases of the U.S. Supreme Court

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All Deliberate Speed?

After the decision, how quickly should schools be desegregated? How quickly were schools desegregated?

The decision in Brown v. Board of Education came in two parts. First, the justices considered whether segregation was constitutional. The Brown I decision determined that it was not, but there still remained the tricky question about how to end segregation. On this question, the Court heard arguments during the following term.

In 1955, the Supreme Court of the United States determined that segregation should be ended as soon as possible, but the Court also recognized that it would be difficult for communities to deal with the change and that there were many institutional, political, and social circumstances to be worked out. The Court struggled with how to phrase the order to desegregate schools and what kind of time frames should be attached to the order. The NAACP advocated for schools to be desegregated "forthwith," which implies a quick timetable. However, Justice Warren adopted the advice of Justice Frankfurter and chose other language.

Directions

Read Justice Frankfurter's notes on this issue and answer the questions that follow.

  1. On page two of the typed notes, Justice Frankfurter writes his original recommendation for how quickly desegregation should occur. What does he say? (This is the typed version, not the handwritten version.) 
  2. Justice Frankfurter then crosses out point 5 and changes point 6 to point 5. He also changes his recommendation for how quickly desegregation should occur. How does he alter his recommendation? (This is the handwritten note.) 
  3. Why do you suppose Justice Frankfurter changed his mind? Think about what actions might be involved in desegregating schools at the local level. 
  4. What do Justice Frankfurter's notes tell you about how Supreme Court decisions are written? 

The Court's recommendation that schools should desegregate "with all deliberate speed" had enormous consequences for the speed of desegregation.  Read a letter from Roy Wilkins to President Kennedy (pages 14 of 15) regarding desegregation in Prince Edward County, Virginia.

  1. What does the letter tell you about how quickly desegregation occurred?

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