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Richard Kluger's Simple Justice after 29 Years: Simple Justice

  • Robert Lowe (a1)

Although it is obligatory to mark the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, why it deserves to be commemorated is not necessarily obvious at a distance of fifty years. The decision itself, Richard Kluger made clear in Simple Justice, was unprepossessing and unassertive. Delivered in pedestrian language, “the only soaring sentence,” he rightly pointed out, claimed that segregation could affect Black children's “hearts and minds in a way unlikely to be ever undone” (p. 705). The decision, in fact, emphasized the psychological damage African Americans putatively experienced rather than exposed the hypocrisy of Plessy v. Ferguson's contention that racial classifications were not designed to impose an inferior standing on Black people. Additionally, this emphasis on psychological damage was supported by social science citations which gave top billing to Kenneth Clark, whose dubious research on African-American children's doll preferences had been persuasively critiqued by opposing counsel John W. Davis, and, according to Kluger, had even been “the source of considerable derision” among some of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) lawyers (p. 321). Finally, an implementation decision was deferred until Brown II, which a year later required that desegregation proceed “with all deliberate speed,” limited relief to plaintiffs in the offending districts, left the nature of that relief to the district judges who had ruled against desegregation, and unleashed vigorous white resistance across much of the South.

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See Mark Tushnet The NAACP Legal Strategy against Segregated Education, 1925–1950 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987).

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History of Education Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0018-2680
  • EISSN: 1748-5959
  • URL: /core/journals/history-of-education-quarterly
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