The Atlantic

The Radical Supreme Court Decision That America Forgot

In Green v. New Kent County, the Court saw school desegregation as a reparative process—likely the closest thing to reparations that the American judicial system has ever endorsed.
Source: J. Walter Green / AP

Americans like to imagine the civil-rights era as a single, sustained burst of progress, surging forth in 1954 with Brown v. Board of Education and building to a crescendo before terminating, somewhat hazily, in the late 1960s. But the real narrative of civil rights refuses to yield to this familiar arc.

Nothing illustrates this more than the strange stop-and-start of American school desegregation. The Brown decision dissolved Jim Crow in schools, and wrought real change, but contrary to popular belief, it did not signal the federal government’s intention to wage war on all school segregation. Much of the North remained completely unaffected. The true national push for integration would come 14 years later—after the death of Dr. King, and indeed, after the entire civil-rights movement had come and nearly gone. The critical moment came in a Supreme Court decision—one far less remembered than Brown.

The , , was decided on May 27th, 1968, 50 years ago this past Sunday. marked the beginning of what we now remember as federal school integration, setting up racial quietly embraced a radical view: that the Constitution can sometimes the government to repair the harms of historic racial injustice, even after it stops explicitly discriminating by race.

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