Scarlet Kim


The story of school desegregation in America is so pivotal to our understanding of the Civil Rights Movement that divergent interpretations become more than scholarly endeavors; they rattle our faith in social change. The story about desegregation traditionally begins with Brown v. Board of Education. When Michael Klarman first suggested in 1994 that Brownmay have contributed less to the Civil Rights Movement than conventionally believed, legal historians pilloried his scholarship. Brown had attained a position "so politically sacrosanct" that any recalibration of its import or influence threatened to fundamentally undermine the accepted history of the Civil Rights Movement itself. Although Klarman's theory is no longer as controversial as it once was, debates over the legacy of Brown continue to raise fundamental questions about social change in America that transcend the bounds of academic dispute.

Much of the reinterpretation of Brown's significance naturally focuses on the history of the Supreme Court, particularly on its role in effecting social change. One interesting question that arises from these inquiries is how the Court itself understands the legacy of Brown. Of course, the Court has articulated its interpretation of Brown as legal judgment and judicial precedent time and time again. But to what extent has the Court expressed an understanding of Brown as historical event? Has the Court recognized Brown as embedded within a larger history of race relations in America? And if so, how has this recognition influenced the Court's evaluation of its own role in this history?