On May 17, 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the unanimous opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court in the matter of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, overturning its landmark ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, which had upheld the constitutionality of segregationist state laws under the doctrine of “separate but equal.”
The court’s abandonment of Plessy reverberated throughout the country, but by itself could not dislodge Jim Crow. Only years of social upheaval could bring about legislation as transformative as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The civil rights movement finally pressured the politicians to act — and the press served as its witnesses. With a presence in the South stretching back 90 years, The Associated Press was uniquely prepared to report it.
Students of Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., including Hazel Bryan, shout insults at Elizabeth Eckford on Sept. 4, 1957, as she calmly marches down to a line of National Guardsmen, who blocked the main entrance and would not let her enter. AP Photo / Arkansas Democrat Gazette / Will Counts View on apimages.com >
A Montgomery, Ala., Sheriff's Department booking photo of Rosa Parks taken Feb. 22, 1956, after she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white passenger on Dec. 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Ala. AP Photo / Montgomery County Sheriff's Office View on apimages.com >
Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King displays pictures of three civil rights workers at a news conference on Dec. 4, 1964, in New York City. The workers, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, disappeared in Mississippi near the town of Philadelphia, northeast of Jackson, the previous summer. Dr. King commended the FBI for its arrests in Mississippi in connection with the slayings. AP Photo / John Lindsay View on apimages.com >
“This is not a sectional issue. Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every city, in every State of the Union. … This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right. We are confronted primarily with a moral issue.”
—President John F. Kennedy, June 11, 1963