20 years ago, Jackson Center commemorated Brown v. Board

P-J file photo by John Whittaker John Barrett, St. John’s University law professor, Elizabeth S. Lenna fellow to the Robert H. Jackson Center and a Jackson Center board member, speaks as Linda Brown Thompson, left, and Cheryl Brown Henderson, center, look on during a speech at Chautauqua Institution commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.

Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson almost didn’t sign on to the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Brown v. Board.

During a roundtable discussion in 2004 at the Robert H. Jackson Center centered on the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision with other Supreme Court clerks who were working for Supreme Court justices in 1954, E. Barrett Prettyman, Jackson’s law clerk, said Jackson had drafted a concurring decision based on drafts of a majority opinion Jackson had been seeing. Jackson was one of two justices who were considering writing concurring opinions – meaning they agreed with the majority of justices but disagreed on some of the reasons for the decision.

In Jackson’s case, the local native didn’t agree with early drafts of the Brown v. Board opinion on the grounds that the separate but equal doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson had been surpassed by the progress that many African-Americans had made in the years since the 1897 Plessy decision.

Jackson had a heart attack that sent him to Walter Reed Memorial Hospital and, while in the hospital, was presented a draft of Chief Justice Earl Warren’s decision. It was a decision Jackson also signed – giving the decision a unanimous opinion that Warren had desired. Prettyman said the way Warren’s opinion was written brought Jackson into line with the majority opinion.

“We talked about it and it was very obvious, and this is the best way I can put it, is that he was relieved, very relieved, that something had been presented that he could go along with,” Prettyman said during the 2004 Jackson Center event. Prettyman has since passed away.

P-J file photo by John Whittaker From left, former Supreme Court clerks John David Fassett, Earl Pollock, Frank E.A. Sander and E. Barrett Prettyman, Robert H. Jackson’s final law clerk, are pictured during a 2004 roundtable at the Robert H. Jackson Center.

In addition to the roundtable of Supreme Court clerks, the celebration of the Brown v. Board decision hosted by the Robert H. Jackson Center in 2004 featured a visit by Cheryl Brown Henderson and Linda Brown Thompson, the sisters who gave Brown v. Board its name. During a speech to a Chautauqua Institution amphitheater crowd packed with area high school students, the sisters highlighted the importance of education in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education.

“We must be mindful of delivering effective education,” Brown Thompson said. “To me, the impact of Brown is best seen in the increasing numbers of black professionals today. These are the people that after 1954 were able to have some degree of choice. This surely made a difference in their aspirations and their achievements.”


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