Jarvis: 60th Anniversary of Brown Vs. Board of Education

The following is a repost of a column by Gail Jarvis from 2014. It is important to be able to follow the direction of the education system in America. This was posted by Kettle Moraine Publications on one of our other sites, but felt that it has become important to intertwine these columns for review. ~ J.B.

We can expect the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the May 17, 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, to be conducted in the usual reverential manner.

The Brown decision was indeed a turning point in American history, but whether it was beneficial or detrimental is still being debated. Of course, many feel that any time the rights of states are usurped by the Federal government, it represents progress. Consequently, this decision is always portrayed as a momentous societal improvement that all Americans should celebrate. But some of us will be unable to celebrate, not because we believe in “separate but equal” schools, but because of how the case was conducted, and the long-range consequences that it has wrought upon our society.

The Brown decision brings to mind the following quote from James Russell Lowell: “Among the lessons taught by the French Revolution there is none sadder or more striking than this, that you may make everything else out of the passions of men except a political system that will work, and that there is nothing so pitilessly and unconsciously cruel as sincerity formulated into dogma.” – Wise words indeed. “Sincerity formulated into dogma” certainly characterizes the Brown decision. It might have been based on good intentions, but attempts to accomplish its idyllic goals actually did more harm than good.

Over the years, the unintended consequences spawned by this one Supreme Court decision have spread throughout society and helped create a social order based on feelings uncorroborated by facts. This new order is supported by government, media, academia and the entertainment field, and their support has never wavered. These societal guard dogs approve of all feel-good social programs and you are vilified for even questioning the “remedies” proposed to accomplish them.

Famous “doll tests”
When you consider how drastically the Brown v. Board of Education decision restructured our society, it is difficult to believe the technique used to sell it to the high court. The NAACP charged its Legal Defense Fund with the task of overturning the “separate but equal” provisions on the Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision. Unable to find any judicial justification for its case, the Legal Defense Fund decided to pursue a “psychological” justification. They claimed that black students’ psyches were permanently harmed by not attending schools with white students. The organization called on psychologist Dr. Kenneth Clark to present its argument. Dr. Clark had academic credentials, and was to become the first black psychologist to be elected president of the American Psychological Association.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Dr. Clark conducted his famous “doll tests” on young black children. For his experiment, 16 black children were shown white and black dolls to determine their preferences. Unfortunately, at that time, manufacturers only made white dolls so Clark had to apply brown paint and otherwise alter the Caucasian features of one of his dolls. – In response to a series of questions, ten of the 16 children exhibited a strong preference for the white doll. Based on his doll tests, Clark concluded that society was causing black children to have low self-esteem. Furthermore, Clark postulated that their low self-esteem resulted from not being allowed to attend schools with white children. The NAACP felt sure that Dr. Clark’s doll study would win the case for them and they were right.

This Supreme Court case is not remembered for learned legal arguments. Indeed, the rule of law was supplanted by fashionable sociological theories, which made the case a watershed moment in American history. Even those on the Left who strongly favored the decision admitted that jurisprudence took a back seat to sociology, as evidenced by the headline of The New York Times: “A Sociological Decision: Court Founded Its Segregation Ruling On Hearts and Minds Rather Than Laws.”

The only thoughtful legal arguments were presented by opposing attorney John W. Davis. He was confident that he would win because legal traditions as well as Constitutional prescripts were on his side. His confidence in a favorable decision was bolstered as he listen to the testimony of the NAACP’s attorney, Thurgood Marshall, whose arguments were based solely on Dr. Clark’s doll tests. Davis felt sure that the Justices would not accept Marshall’s doll test argument. Unfortunately, psychological theories that we would question today were held in high regard in the 1950s. Still, we have to wonder if the Supreme Court Justices were actually fooled by the specious scientific claims of the doll tests or if they simply wanted to find any excuse to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson.

John W. Davis was not a segregationist, but a bona fide Conservative of the old school, believing that societal changes must evolve slowly, step-by-step, and only when the time is right. And he was renowned for being fair-minded. He fought against child labor, defended the rights of blacks to vote, and spoke out against the KKK. Davis maintained that changes in the racial composition of schools was already occurring gradually in the states and that this process should be left alone. The passage of years would prove him right.

In announcing the Supreme Court’s decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren cited Dr. Clark’s doll tests as proof that black students suffered low-esteem as a result of not being allowed to attend schools with white students. At that time, Dr. Clark was referred to as a “modern authority” and consequently, his testimony was “evidence” that measures should be taken to ensure “equal esteem.” But in 2005, over fifty years after Dr. Clark’s doll test, the experiment was repeated by New York filmmaker, Kiri Davis. The results of her 2005 tests were the same as Clark’s – black children still preferred white dolls. But since schools had been integrated for a over a half century, Ms. Davis could not claim that separate schools affected the choices made by the children, as Clark had done.

Since 1954, concerted efforts have been made in films and television to portray blacks in non-stereotypical ways, so those young blacks tested in 2005 had been exposed to years of images of accomplished blacks in respected and non-segregated positions. They had also grown up with wholesome media depictions of black families. So, regardless of how Ms. Davis’ doll test results are interpreted, they certainly cast serious doubts on Dr. Clark’s conclusion that separate schools caused black children to choose white dolls over black ones.

In this 60th anniversary of the Brown decision, events will be reported selectively, in much the same way Hollywood script writers change the ending of a novel being filmed to enhance audience appeal. Dr. Clark’s questionable doll test will probably not be mentioned. If John W. Davis is mentioned at all, it will be to dismiss him as a segregationist. Thurgood Marshall will likely be portrayed as presenting a highly skilled judicial argument. And the Brown decision itself will be exalted as a great step forward for our nation.

Written by Gail Jarvis and published by Canada Free Press, May 16, 2014.

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