This Day in History

Oct. 29, 1969: Supreme Court Rules Schools Must Desegregate

Time Periods: 1961
Themes: African American, Civil Rights Movements, Education, Laws & Citizen Rights
Charles Hamilton Houston | Zinn Education Project

Charles Hamilton Houston, portrait by Robert Shetterly of Americans Who Tell the Truth. Click to learn more and order poster.

On this anniversary of the Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education Supreme Court ruling on desegregation on Oct. 29, 1969, we remember the vital work of Charles Hamilton Houston who paved the way for many of the legal victories of the Civil Rights Movement.

The Alexander v. Holmes case was brought by Beatrice Alexander, on behalf of her children, after she sued the Holmes County, Mississippi School District. Her lawyer was Jack Greenberg of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

The Supreme Court ruled that schools in the U.S. had to desegregate “immediately,” instead of the previous ruling of “with all deliberate speed.”

As Houston prepared the lawyers whose names and cases we recognize today, he explained:

A lawyer is either a social engineer or [s]he is a parasite on society.

He also recognized that laws alone are not enough:

There’s a difference between law on the books and the law in action.

Learn more in the film “The Road to Brown” from California Newsreel.