Brown v Board of Education was the landmark Supreme Court case in America that was supposed to allow more educational choice for all Americans, basically stopping segregational policies and on a legal level schools were to be integrated. While the results did not go as planned the case itself was an amalgamation of other legal cases that made their way through the courts in the early/mid 20th century.

Were there others that happened before this time in either the early 20thC or in the 19thC that might have been lost before this decision? Typcially it takes years and multiple tries to get a case to the Supreme Court so it seems that these cases can't be the only ones and so far I haven't found many more that might have been tried.

More on Brown v Board of Education can be found here if needed.

2 Answers 2


Brown overturned Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) which established the legal precedent for "separate but equal". The NAACP brought suit in 5 cases (Briggs v. Elliott, Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Gebhart v. Belton and Bolling v. Sharpe) that were combined with Brown to be heard in the Supreme Court.

Prior to Brown, segregation cases tended to be dismissed in lower Federal courts on the basis of Plessy v. Ferguson. For example, there had been 11 other suits in Kansas before Brown that had been dismissed or lost.

Some cases did get to the Supreme Court though. Lum v. Rice (1927) held that the exclusion on account of race of a child of Chinese ancestry didn't violate equal protection. Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938) and Sipuel v. Board of Regents of Univ. of Okla. (1948), while upholding Plessy, said that if a state did not provide a equal educational facility a minority student the student must be admitted to the whites only school.

You might find this timeline helpful: Court Cases in Prelude to Brown, 1849-1949

  • Ah...Roberts v City of Boston. I think that was the one I was originally thinking of when I was writing this up. Thanks!
    – MichaelF
    Commented May 10, 2012 at 15:00
  • A fascinating read is the book by Michael G. Long called "Marshaling Justice: The Early Civil Rights Letters of Thurgood Marshall" (Harpers Collins 2011). It is a book showing excerpts of letters written or received by Thurgood Marshall when he was counsel to the NAACP from the late 1930s until 1959. While he was litigating Brown, he also Marshall's team had five other cases before the Court and more on lower court dockets. One by one he chipped away at old racist institutions and changed America. Commented Jul 31, 2014 at 18:31

Brown v. Board of Education was not really about education. The case was about whether facilities could be separate and equal. The Supreme Court held that separate but equal was "inherently unequal and inherently unlawful." So jfrankcarr is right to point out the segregation cases that led up to Brown, as well as the wealth of information from the Brown Foundation.

For Further Reading:

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