In 1954, the Supreme Court decided that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional—but it was thousands of children who actually desegregated America’s classrooms. The task that fell to them was a brutal one.
In the years following Brown v. Board of Education, vicious legal and political battles broke out; town by town, Black parents tried to send their children to white schools, and white parents—and often their children, too—tried to keep those Black kids out. They tried everything: bomb threats, beatings, protests. They physically blocked entrances to schools, vandalized lockers, threw rocks, taunted and jeered. Often, the efforts of white parents worked: Thousands upon thousands of Black kids were barred from the schools that were rightfully theirs to attend.
But eventually, in different places at different times, Black parents won. And that meant that their kids had to walk or take the bus to a school that had tried to keep them out. And then they had to walk in the door, go to their classrooms, and try to get an education—despite the hatred directed at them, despite the knowledge that their white classmates didn’t want them there, and despite being alone. They changed America, but in large part, that change was not lasting. As they grew older, many of them watched as their schools resegregated, and their work was undone.