On May 17, 1954, the supreme court ruled that schools shouldn’t be racially segregated. The response of the news media varied from region to region.
The next day, The New York Times front cover had the following headline stretched across the front page “HIGH COURT BANS SCHOOL SEGREGATION 9-TO-0 DECISION GRANTS TIME TO COMPLY.”
The image on the front cover showed African American lawyers, who led the battle against the supreme court, shaking hands.
The Title of the Article said, “ 1896 Ruling Upset.” The Subheading read , ‘Separate but Equal’ Doctrine Held Out of Place in Education. A third subheading said the full text of the Supreme Court’s decision was printed on Page 15. All of these screaming headlines show that the New York Times knew that they were writing about a historic and monumental event.
In the first stanza the article announced the ruling. In the third stanza it said that the method of integration will be decided in October. After providing Chief Justice Warren’s rationale for the decision, the writer went on to say that the decision did not apply to private schools, railroads and “other public carriers”. The writer also listed all the states that have mandatory segregation, adding that South Carolina and Georgia have announced that they plan to abolish public schools if segregation were banned.
The article didn’t express any obvious bias, but it focused on how segregationist states viewed the ruling rather than focusing on states that were pleased by the ruling and it didn’t talk about the effect of the ruling on African Americans. The absense of African Americans cheering the decision made me feel as if the writer was reassuring people that the status quo would be preserved- at least for the time being.
A nearby column titled “Breathing Spell” for Adjustment Tempers Region’s Feelings said that Southern leaders were relieved that integration would be gradual. As proof it noted that the governors of South Carolina and Georgia (who had in the past threatened to disband public education if segregation was banned) – were displeased with the verdict but found relief in slow integration. The voice for African Americans, the Southern Regional Council, was in favor of gradual integration too. I wonder if there were any African Americans who wanted equality then and there.
On the other side of the country, the LA Times Times printed a front page news story titled ‘High Court Bans School Segregation’ by Robert T Hartmann, the Times Washington bureau chief. The article was filled with quotes that explained the court’s reasoning.
It also included a tiny bit of analysis . The write spoke about the legal reach of the decision and its historical significance, “Although, technically today’s rulings apply only to the four States and the District of Columbia, and further legal delays may be encountered before public school segregation is formally outlawed throughout the land, the Supreme Court’s broad application of the 14th amendment appeared to doom separation of pupils on racial grounds as surely as Lincoln ended slavery in the United States.”
The article also mentioned a loophole in the law. The court only cared to desegregate public – not private -- educational facilities. “Some legal observers saw a loophole for announced southern plans to turn their states public schools over to private operation in the court’s conclusion that the opportunity for an education, ‘where the State has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.’ ”
There are few indications of the writer’s opinion on the case, but this line hints that he’s in favor: “Written in clear, nontechnical language, the sweeping decision outlined the remarkable strides in the past century not only of the Negro race but of the theory of public education.”