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22 Pages

All but Overturned: America's Nullification of Brown v. Board of Education

WithAlbert L. Samuels

Six decades have passed since the Supreme Court's holding in Brown v. Board of Education declared “separate educational facilities for the races are inherently unequal.” Yet, the educational landscape for still far too many Black and Latino school children more resembles Plessy v. Ferguson. Years of resistance to the letter and spirit of Brown in various forms culminated with a series of Supreme Court decisions in the 1990s that released scores of local school districts from court-mandated desegregation orders. These political and legal battles over desegregation and busing are often understood as part of the “Southern strategy” utilized by Republicans to appeal to the racial resentments of white voters who traditionally voted Democratic. This essay, by drawing parallels to the Nullification Crisis of 1832–1833, argues that the so-called Southern strategy is not a mere by-product of “white backlash” to the civil rights movement. Rather, the Nullification Crisis is the crucible for a uniquely American reactionary political tradition that opposes the ideal of multiracial democracy. Thus, America's “nullification” of Brown represents the norm, not the exception, to the pattern of American history with respect to race.