Brown v. Board of Education
50 Years Later
BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION 21
Supreme Court’s landmark decision struck down racial segregation in public schools
and marked a turning point in the assault on Jim Crow apartheid.
Jack Greenberg, then a young assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense
and Educational Fund (LDF), was one of a half-dozen lawyers who argued before
the Supreme Court in the five consolidated cases now know as Brown. He later suc-
ceeded Thurgood Marshall as LDF’s director-counsel and now serves as a professor at
Columbia Law School. A pivotal player in the civil rights movement, Greenberg
wrote a personal history of the LDF, Crusaders in the Courts: How a Dedicated Band of
Lawyers Fought for the Civil Rights Revolution, which was first published in 1994 and is
being reissued this year with additional material.
In December 2003, Greenberg spoke at a Stanford Law School event sponsored
by the School’s chapter of the American Constitution Society. Before his talk,
Stanford Lawyer organized a roundtable with Greenberg and three Stanford Law
School faculty members: R. Richard Banks (BA/MA ’87), Associate Professor of Law,
a leading scholar on racial discrimination, criminal justice, and affirmative action;
Pamela Karlan, Kenneth and Harle Montgomery Professor of Public Interest Law,
one of the nation’s foremost constitutional litigators, who also began her legal career
at LDF; and William Koski (PhD ’03), Associate Professor of Law, a practicing
lawyer and education policy scholar who runs the Law School’s education law clinic.
Rick Banks: One of the criticisms of Brown is that it catalyzed the resistance.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened had the state not appealed—had
there not been a Brown at all.
Jack Greenberg: American politics, with regard to race, was a frozen sea. It was under
the control of the Eastlands and Talmadges and Bilbos and Russells [powerful
Dixiecrat senators]. Nothing was going to change them or dislodge them from
power. Blacks couldn’t vote.