On May 17, 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the Supreme Court's unanimous ruling in the landmark civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, delcaring that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." State-sanctioned segregation of public schools was a violation of the 14th Amendment and was therefore unconstitutional. This decision put an end to the doctrine of "separate but equal" that had prevailed for nearly sixty years since the Supreme Court's Plessy v. Fergusun decision in 1896.
A unanimous follow-up decision in 1955, known as Brown II, contained the Supreme Court's instruction for the states to implement school desegregation "with all deliberate speed." Desegregation had already begun in Topeka, Kansas elementary schools by the time Brown v. Board of Education was decided, but white resistance was much greater in many other places across the South.
In Arkansas in 1957, Governor Orval Faubus ordered his state's national guard to block the admission of nine African American students to Little Rock's Central High School. A stand-off ensued for nearly a month until President Eisenhower sent in U.S. troops to protect the students.
In Virginia, Senator Harry F. Byrd organized state political leaders to undertake a policy of "Massive Resistance" against school integration. In one of the most extreme instances associated with this policy, the school board of Prince Edward County chose to withdraw all funding from its public school system rather than integrate it. The county left education to newly established private schools that excluded African American children from their classrooms. This situation persisted for five years until the Supreme Court declared that the school board's actions were impermissible violations of the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment in Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (1964).