Dr. King and the Battle for Hearts and Minds
28 Pages Posted: 7 Jan 2009
Date Written: 2009
In 1954, a unanimous Supreme Court held that laws requiring dual public school systems, separated solely on the basis of race, violated the rights afforded to African American children under the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection and Due Process clauses. Brown v. Board of Education marked the beginning of a judicial assault on what the Court in Loving v. Virginia called statutory schemes and state court decisions that served as "an endorsement of the doctrine of White Supremacy." Both Chief Justice Earl Warren and Dr. King recognized that the practice of White Supremacy did more than keep people separated. In Brown, Warren's opinion also validated the relevance of the psychic injury caused by what Dr. King often referred to as "the iron feet of oppression." Warren wrote that the segregation of children solely based on race "generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone." While Warren's conclusion remains hotly debated, Brown introduced personal stigmatic injury into school desegregation discourse. Dr. King embraced the centrality of the heart and mind in the struggle for social justice.
Part II juxtaposes Dr. King's thoughts on the evils of segregation and the necessity of integration with the development of desegregation jurisprudence after Brown. Part III traces the short-lived efforts of the federal judiciary to integrate public schools following Dr. King's death up to Parents Involved. Part IV summarizes the Parents Involved decision and compares the plurality's legal and social visions to that of Brown and Plessy. Part V hypothesizes about Dr. King's reaction to Parents Involved and takes a closer look at the importance of the heart and mind in the Brown opinion and Dr. King's thinking. In conclusion, I attempt to answer the prophetic question posed by Dr. King near the end of his life: "Where do we go from here?" in achieving and sustaining racial diversity in public education.
Keywords: Martin Luther King, Jr., public education, racial diversity, integration, social justice, school desegregation, Brown v. Board of Education
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