BW - EP127—007: May 1954—Brown Vs. The Board Of Education

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On Sunday May 23rd, 1954 at 6PM Eastern, The American Forum of the Air signed on Mutual with a discussion on the Supreme Court Decision of Brown versus The Board of Education. On May 17th, The Court ruled that racial segregation within the U.S. public school system was unconstitutional. It repealed the “separate but equal” doctrine from 1896. By the early 1950s the NAACP was filing lawsuits on behalf of plaintiffs in South Carolina, Virginia and Delaware, with Thurgood Marshall as attorney. In the most famous case, Oliver Brown filed suit against the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas after his daughter, Linda Brown, was denied access to Topeka’s all-white elementary schools. Brown claimed it violated the fourteenth Amendment. This case and four others eventually went before the U.S. Supreme court in December of 1952. At first, the justices were divided on how to rule. Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson felt the 1896 verdict should stand. But, he died in September of 1953 and President Eisenhower replaced him with California governor Earl Warren. Eisenhower knew this appointment would help overturn the nineteenth century verdict. In the decision, issued on May 17, 1954, Warren wrote that “in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place,” as segregated schools are “inherently unequal.” Days after that decision, there was considerable debate in the media over whether desegregation was fair. In this episode of The American Forum, the debate is between Democrat Senator Paul Douglas of Illinois and Democrat Senator Price Daniel of Texas. The American Forum of the Air’s roots were planted in Gimbels department store in 1928. Gimbels owned WGBS. Theodore Granik, a young law student who worked for Gimbels, did continuity, wrote dialogue, and reported sports events. He had an idea for a panel discussion on all kinds of legal issues. When the station was sold, WOR gave Granik a similar job. The American Forum of the Air premiered in 1934. By 1943, it had become a staple for those looking to stay abreast of socio-economics and politics. The format was tight. Proponents and opponents were allowed an opening statement; a panel discussion followed, questions were taken from the audience, and closing summations wrapped it all up. It was the only radio show printed verbatim in the Congressional Record and won a Peabody Award in 1949.

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