Today is also, very fittingly, the fiftieth anniversary of another civil rights landmark: the Brown versus Board Decision. In today's New York Times, Michael Klarman rightfully chastens those who would credit desegregation to the prescience of a few judges rather than the power of broad mobilization: Thousands of African-American soldiers became civil rights pioneers, reasoning that if they were good enough to risk their lives for democracy, they should enjoy some of it at home. During the 1940's, one and a half million African-Americans moved from the rural South, where they had been almost universally disenfranchised, to the urban North, where they not only voted without restriction but often tipped the balance between evenly divided political parties. As the cold war dawned, the United States government identified racial discrimination as a potentially crippling liability because it "furnishes grist for the Communist propaganda mills." These and other forces were having noticeable effects even before Brown. Jackie Robinson desegregated Major League Baseball in 1947. President Harry Truman desegregated the federal military and civil service in 1948. Even in the South, significant racial reforms were afoot; black voter registration increased to 20 percent in 1950 from 3 percent in 1940. By the time of Brown, dozens of Southern cities had hired their first black police officers since Reconstruction. The Supreme Court justices who decided Brown were aware of these developments. Sherman Minton detected "a different world today." Felix Frankfurter noted "the great changes in the relations between white and colored people since the First World War," and remarked that "the pace of progress has surprised even those most eager in its promotion." Robert Jackson went the furthest: "Negro progress under segregation has been spectacular. His rise is one of the swiftest and most dramatic advances in the annals of man." That said, the Supreme Court decision represented a huge leap forward nonetheless. Among the lessons of the unfinished struggle for integration for the newly-progressed struggle for gay marriage, perhaps, is the urgency of combining legislative and judicial advocacy with broad-based organizing which challenges and mobilizes the public. Such is key to the successes of the civil rights movement, and to the failures in the further realization of its goals.


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