by Sherrilyn Ifill/Smithsonianmag.com
The following essay from Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, covers the five-year-span from 1949 to 1954. Ifill describes the long campaign of desegregation cases brought by Thurgood Marshall, then president of the Legal Defense Fund, focusing on a suit that arose out of Hearne, Texas. World War II and its aftermath exposed the contrast to fighting fascism abroad while the system of Jim Crow governed the American South. The school system of Hearne, Texas, produced a stark example of this contradiction when, following a fire that destroyed the black high school, the white school superintendent decided that the barracks that once housed German prisoners of war should become the new segregated school. Ifill’s essay captures the long struggle for educational equality in the United States.
In 1948, U.S. officials vigorously prosecuted German war criminals in Nuremberg for enforcing anti-Semitic policies, practices and laws that advanced a theory of ethnic and religious inferiority of Jews. At the same time, state officials across the American South were enforcing segregationist policies, practices and laws that advanced a theory of white supremacy and the racial inferiority of African Americans, undisturbed by the federal government.