Brown v. the Board of Education, the Cuban Missile Crisis and NOW’s Statement of Purpose
None of the three cases under examination is, at first glance, controversial. All are widely regarded as triumphs for freedom and democracy, and few people would have wanted any of these cases to have been concluded otherwise. The first case, Brown v. the Board of Education, was decided in May 1954 by the Warren court which announced that the “separate but equal” doctrine instated by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 was no longer acceptable. From that day on, American schools became integrated, thereby assuring equal education for all. The second case, President John F. Kennedy’s prosecution of the Cuban Missile Crisis, led to the resolution of a conflict that might well have caused the destruction of our planet and was commonly considered a triumph for the United States. The third case, Betty Friedan’s statement of purpose for the organization she founded, the National Organization of Women (NOW), is also hard to fault. Few people would disagree with her argument that women should have equal rights and be regarded as equal partners in marriage.
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However, in each of these cases, there is a near-fatal flaw that has manifested itself in the succeeding years; that is not to say that the decision in Brown v. the Board of Education was wrong or that Kennedy made mistakes, or that Friedan’s demands are anything but fair. In all cases, the principals behaved admirably. Yet educators and legislators, including many African-Americans, have criticized the Warren court, not only for the grounds on which it decided against the “separate but equal” doctrine but also for its decision to integrate. The Cuban Missile Crisis, which was defused by Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s extraordinary and supra-political cooperation, not to mention a good deal of luck, has left Cuba poverty-stricken and neglected, a victim of international power politics for which the US is at least as much to blame as the former USSR. Also, the popular conception that the Crisis ended in a victory for the US is arguable. As for NOW, the fact that the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) has yet to be passed into law indicates that Friedan’s radical concept of the equality of the sexes has not persuaded everyone. Furthermore, the denigration of the institution of marriage by radical feminists along with the staggering increase in divorce, illegitimate births, and single parenthood, and the hostility created in the workplace by special protective measures created and enforced to ensure equal treatment, have caused many to question whether equality of the sexes means that the sexes must be treated as being identical. In short, these are three cases, which are thought to be unexceptionable, yet may have done more harm than good.
In the matter of Brown v. the Board of Education, the Warren court decided that the psychological damage done to African American children through segregated education necessitated the immediate integration of all public schools. After noting that times have changed dramatically since Plessy v. Ferguson and that equal educational opportunity for all is necessary for any democratic society, Warren wrote: “To separate them [negro children] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” The assumption underlying all forms of segregation is that “the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group,” and the damage this does to African American children can never be undone. For many Americans, black and white, integrating schools was not unwelcome; however, what we remember of that period is the National Guardmen being called out at Little Rock, George Wallace standing at the door saying “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” and Norman Rockwell’s painting, “The Problem We All Live With,” showing a little black girl being escorted to school by four burly security men and a burst tomato on the wall not far from her.