The "New Reconstruction" in the South:
Desegregation in Historical Perspective
Two short years have passed since the Supreme Court’s decision of May 17, 1954 declaring segregation in the public schools unconstitutional. An event that is invariably described as “historic” has indeed begun to take its place as a landmark in American history. Two years’ time, however, is not much perspective, as historical views go, in which to attempt to assess the probable meaning and importance of a Court decision of the first magnitude. The historian recalls with a shudder what a perspective of a mere two years would have revealed to him about the historic meaning and importance of such earlier land-marks as the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, the Dred Scott Decision of 1857, the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1875, the Fourteenth Amendment of 1867, or, for that matter, the Volstead Act of 1919. Such laws and decisions—all of which were in some degree nullified by events or public sentiment—also remind one of how precarious are the fortunes of American statesmanship when it operates against the mass opposition of a significant section of the country.
About the Author