The United States Supreme Court’s 1954 landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education declared that segregation in public education violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. For the millions of African Americans who had endured decades of separate and unequal schooling, this decision was a resounding reaffirmation of the nation’s commitment to equal justice under the law. But those who expected segregated schools to end overnight were in for a rude awakening. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (“NAACP”), which had led the legal assault against segregation since its founding in 1909, was encouraged by the Court’s ruling. But its attorneys would soon realize that their initial optimism had been premature and that they had greatly underestimated white southern resistance. Perhaps few could have predicted that it would take nearly twenty years before school desegregation would begin in earnest in the states of the former Confederacy— and only then because of the determined actions of a few courageous judges willing to place principle above prejudice. Judge Robert R. Merhige, Jr., of Virginia was one of them.
Robert A. Pratt,
The Conscience of Virginia: Judge Robert R. Merhige, Jr., and the Politics of School Desegregation,
U. Rich. L. Rev.
Available at: https://scholarship.richmond.edu/lawreview/vol52/iss5/5