News at Princeton

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Web Stories

Exhibition on role of ACLU in Brown v. Board runs through Oct. 15

An exhibition at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library highlights the key role of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the U.S. Supreme Court's historic Brown v. Board of Education decision. Several important documents from the case are on display in the lobby of the Mudd Library through Friday, Oct. 15.

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan. The decision struck down precedent established nearly six decades earlier in Plessy v. Ferguson, which had opened the door to state-sanctioned racial discrimination across the nation.

In the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court concluded that a Louisiana law requiring whites and blacks to ride in separate railroad cars did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, giving birth to the concept of "separate but equal" facilities. The ACLU supported the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in its challenge of "separate but equal" and filed an amicus brief. The ACLU also solicited support of its brief from many religious organizations and a select group of progressive southern lawyers.

On display at Mudd Library is an annotated copy of the request sent out by ACLU president Arthur Garfield Hays on Nov. 12, 1952. Response to this letter was mixed, with some supporting the brief while others felt that "judicial compulsion is not the appropriate way to deal with this problem in the South." A selection of these letters is on display.

Also on view is a letter written by Thurgood Marshall that acknowledges the role of the ACLU in the case. Marshall served as chief attorney for the NAACP from 1940 to 1961 and later became the first African-American Supreme Court justice.

The Mudd Library is the official repository for the archives of the ACLU, which was founded by Roger Baldwin and others in New York City in 1920. Information about the holdings is available online .

Contact: Eric Quinones (609) 258-3601

Back To Top