Courts have been used by civil rights activists to challenge existing discriminatory laws, practices, and customs. Court cases have been filed to challenge racial segregation in areas such as education, voting, employment, housing, and public transportation. Some of these cases have been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which determines whether or not laws are constitutional. In the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), a unanimous Court declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional. Brown signaled the beginning of the end of de jure segregation (or segregation that is mandated through laws) in the South, and marked the birth of the modern Civil Rights Movement. In 1955, a second Brown decision (Brown II) ordered the desegregation of public schools in the South “with all deliberate speed.” Despite this ruling, most of the schools in the South remained segregated for nearly two decades after the decision as a result of the massive resistance by the states to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Because the Brown decisions only addressed de jure segregation in the South, many urban schools in the North remained segregated during this period as a result of de facto segregation (or segregation through practice or custom). Lloyd Barbee, a Milwaukee attorney and head of the Milwaukee United School Integration Committee (MUSIC), sought to extend the reach of the Brown decisions to end segregation whether de jure or de facto. On June 17, 1965, Barbee filed a federal lawsuit, Amos et al. v. Board of School Directors of the City of Milwaukee, 408 F. Supp. 765 (1976), charging the Milwaukee school board with unconstitutionally maintaining segregation in its schools. On January 19, 1976, federal Judge John Reynolds decided that “segregation exists in the Milwaukee public schools, and that this segregation was intentionally created and maintained by the defendants.” The school board appealed the decision all the way to the Supreme Court, but Judge Reynolds’ original findings were upheld and Milwaukee began to move forward with a plan to desegregate its schools. LW