IA Law Review: Legal Legacies (Brown v. Board of Education’s Trailblazing Effect on the Civil Rights Act of 1964)

By Vynateya Purimetla (’21)

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The 1954 landmark ruling of Brown v. Board of Education led the way for the passage of following influential civil rights legislation and allowed African-Americans to “look confidently to the future” (Klarman 8). Without the progress and groundwork laid by Brown, laws such as Brown II, the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the Civil Rights Act of 1960, and the Equal Pay Act would never have been established. Brown was a trailblazer in the field of civil rights and set precedents for following pieces of legislation. Therefore, the 1954 landmark ruling of Brown v. Board of Education had a large extent in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Firstly, Brown was instrumental in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it showed that many more civil rights laws were needed in order to achieve full desegregation. This is because even though it’s passage was a step in the right direction, the “ruling [was] largely minimized and even negated” (White 71). Although the Supreme Court ruled for desegregation to take place with all deliberate speed, states took the phrase with a grain of salt. Since this ruling was minimized and virtually useless in the South, it became clear that more legislation had to be passed. Furthermore, the passage of Brown was only a rung in the ladder to full civil rights, which McNeese supports with his statement, “despite [its] importance, it would only be the first step in a process” (McNeese 120). Since Brown only covered the scope of segregation in schools, much more legislation had to be passed covering housing, shops, parks, and all facets of life in general. Therefore, Brown wasn’t enough and it showed that even if the Supreme Court passed a ruling, the South would still find a way to sidestep it and that more steps had to be taken to fully realize equality. So, Brown contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 since it showed that one ruling was not enough to solve all of the problems related to segregation and more legislation had to be passed.

Additionally, Brown was influential in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as it gave hope to activists that courts were listening to their pleas and inspired them to push harder for progress. Many African-American lawyers worked more diligently because the “decision signaled only the beginning of the modern civil rights movement, not its culmination” (Humphrey 8). The passage of Brown gave activists hope that courts were actively listening to them and with enough effort they could pass comprehensive civil rights policies like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Additionally, “[Brown] led to the launching of a comprehensive movement… for social and economic inequality” (Watson 40). Brown’s passage gave activists new vigor and renewed their purpose. They realized that their efforts were not falling on deaf ears and this new hope inspired them to bring about bills like Brown II, the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the Civil Rights Act of 1960, the Equal Pay Act and eventually the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Therefore, Brown led to the passage of the 1964 Act because it signaled a new wave in the civil rights legislative movement and inspired them to bring forth more comprehensive policy.

Most importantly, Brown had a large role in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because there was a direct cause-and-effect relationship between both pieces of legislation and Brown provided traction for the Act. This is because “in order to gain its [Civil Rights Act of 1964] passage… proponents had to assure distinctions based on race were prohibited by the law” (Humphrey 93-94). Without the passage of Brown, a useful groundwork and premise to the arguments of the 1964 Act would not have been set. Without the precedent set by Brown, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 would have been built upon a shaky foundation and might not have been passed in its fullest extent. Moreover, since there was such a delay with Southern states being unwilling to fully enact Brown, “Congress responded to [Brown] delay in 1964 by passing the strongest Civil Rights Act since the Civil War” (Fireside 89). This truly indicates the causal effect of Brown on the 1964 Act. If Southern states were not so nonchalant about ratifying Brown, Congress would not have gone as far as passing the 1964 Act to indicate the severity of the situation. So, Brown led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it set a precedent and showed that Congress wanted Brown’s effects to be amplified.

Although some may argue that Brown did not have an extensive effect on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this argument can be systematically dismantled. One key argument is that “Brown arose furious controversy” (Patterson 14). Although Brown was controversial, its controversy was pivotal in passing future pieces of civil rights legislation. Without these heated discussions being had, Thurgood Marshall and his team of lawyers at the NAACP would not have the media attention and public awareness to continue the legislative battle. Additionally, some may say that “[Brown]… did not have great practical effect” (Patterson 198). Although Brown did not have an immediate effect, that is actually why it was so pivotal in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since Brown was enacted very slowly, if at all, civil rights lawyers realized that stronger, faster action needed to be taken. Due to the fact that Brown had a small effect, lawyers realized even if the Supreme Court passed a ruling, the South would still find a way to sidestep it and that more strong steps had to be taken to fully realize equality.

In conclusion, Brown was instrumental in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it exposed that many more civil rights laws were needed in order to achieve full desegregation. Also, it was influential in passing the 1964 Act as it gave hope to activists that courts were listening to their pleas and inspired them to push harder for progress. Moreover, Brown had a large role in passing the Act because there was a direct cause-and-effect relationship between both pieces of legislation and Brown provided traction to the act. When looking at the context behind Brown’s passage, some differing perspectives crop up. However, arguments against Brown such as its controversial tendency and minimal effect were disproven through historical analysis. Overall, a revisionist historiography perspective was used to explore Brown’s direct effect on the 1964 Act and a focused time scope and informational scope was maintained. In summary, Brown had a considerable extent in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its trailblazing nature led the way to “a new era of civil rights” (Jackson 67).

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