On May 17, 1954, Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, read the court's unexpectedly unanimous ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education, one of the most bitterly divisive cases of the 20th century. It declared that the "segregation of white and Negro children in the public schools of a State solely on the basis of race... denies to Negro children the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment," and ordered the integration of all public schools "with all deliberate speed." Peter Gilbert's painstaking documentary examines the circumstances surrounding this historic decision, the acrimonious legal battles and personal sacrifices that kept individual cases moving through a cumbersome and often hostile legal system and, finally, the decision's legacy. Gilbert, who produced Steve James' acclaimed documentaries HOOP DREAMS (1994) and STEVIE (2002), begins by laying out the historical framework that prompted challenges to the doctrine of "separate but equal" that kept black and white children apart, then focuses on a cross-section of individuals who contributed to the struggle, according to their abilities. Harvard-educated lawyer Charles H. Houston, a law professor at Howard University, trained a generation of African-American lawyers to wage war on racial inequality in the courts; his students included Thurgood Marshall, who eventually argued Brown vs. the Board of Education before the Supreme Court. Rev. Joseph Delaine encouraged his congregants to fight back when a local South Carolina school board that provided buses for white children refused to do the same for black children who habitually walked miles to school. Sixteen-year-old Barbara Johns, a soft-spoken high-school junior, led her classmates in a student strike to protest inferior conditions and teaching materials provided to the black students at Virginia's Robert R. Moton HS; Rev. Leslie Francis Griffin encouraged the teenagers to solicit help from the NAACP. They and many others were ignored, ridiculed and threatened but stood their ground. Even after the Supreme Court decision was handed down, many school districts dragged their heels; Virginia's Prince Edward County school district, which included Moton HS, shut down its public-school system in 1959 rather than integrate it. Schools remained shuttered until 1964. The film's saddest conclusion is that five decades later American public schools remain segregated by economics, with impoverished school districts as seperate and unequal as they were in the pre-Brown era.
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- Released: 2004
- Rating: NR
- Review: On May 17, 1954, Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, read the court's unexpectedly unanimous ruling in Brown vs. the Board of Education, one of the most bitterly divisive cases of the 20th century. It declared that the "se… (more)