Law & Courts

Jack Greenberg, Key Figure in Brown v. Board of Education Case, Dies at 91

By Corey Mitchell — October 13, 2016 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

By guest blogger Corey Mitchell

Jack Greenberg, a civil rights attorneys who helped litigate the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, died this week at age 91.

A member of Thurgood Marshall’s inner circle at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Greenberg worked on a number of high-profile civil rights cases, including Brown v. Board, which abolished “separate but equal” racially segregated public schools in 1954.

Greenberg—who was in his 20s when he helped argue cases that reached the U.S. Supreme Court under the umbrella of Brown v. Board—was the last living lawyer involved in the case.

Greenberg’s most significant contribution came in Delaware with Gebhart v. Belton, where he argued that black children in the state had the right to attend the all-white schools in their neighborhoods. The judge in the case ruled that the black schools were offering far less to children than the white schools —a violation of the “separate but equal” doctrine enshrined in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1896 decision Plessy v. Ferguson. But the decision focused on two high schools and did not apply broadly throughout Delaware.

The U.S. Supreme Court combined that case with similar ones from the District of Columbia, Kansas, South Carolina, and Virginia into a single case which eventually became Brown v. Board of Education.

Marshall, the lead litigator, of course, went on to become the nation’s first black Supreme Court justice. When Marshall left NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 1961 to serve as a federal appeals judge, he hand-picked Greenberg, who was Jewish, as director of the Legal Defense Fund.

Greenberg did not see himself as an improbable choice to lead a national campaign legal against race-based segregation and discrimination.

“The question of race never really entered into it. It was a matter of human liberty. It was the principles that were involved,” Greenberg said in Richard Kluger’s “Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America’s Struggle for Equality.”

Greenberg went on lead the Legal Defense Fund for 23 years. Later in his career there, he argued Alexander v. Holmes County (Miss.) Board of Education, which came before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1969 to combat efforts to stall school integration in the south. In a case that came before the Court a full 15 years after Brown v. Board, the justices mandated that segregated school systems desegregate immediately.

After Greenberg’s retirement from the Legal Defense Fund, he served as an administrator and law professor at Columbia University—his alma matter.

Related Stories

Brown at 60: New Diversity, Familiar Disparities

Death of Pivotal Figures in Brown Mark Passing of Desegregation Era

Topeka Museum Captures Brown Legacy

A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Federal Judge Denies Parents' Suit to Block Florida's Ban on School Mask Mandates
The parents argued that their children, due to health conditions, were at particular risk if any of their peers attend school without masks.
David Goodhue, Miami Herald
3 min read
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.
Marta Lavandier/AP
Law & Courts Texas Attorney General Sues More School Districts That Require Masks
The Texas attorney general's office anticipates filing more lawsuits against districts flouting the governor’s order. Will Dallas be next?
Talia Richman, The Dallas Morning News
4 min read
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Austin Police Association in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2020.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Austin Police Association in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2020.
Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP
Law & Courts Can They Do That? Questions Swirl Around COVID-19 School Vaccine Mandates
With at least one large school district adopting a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, here is a look at the legal landscape for such a requirement.
5 min read
Image of a band-aid being placed on the arm.
iStock/Getty
Law & Courts High Court Justice Rejects Student's Bid to Block Removal Over Sexual Harassment Claim
Justice Elena Kagan denied a California student's effort to return to school after his 'emergency' suspension under Title IX regulations.
3 min read
The Supreme Court in Washington as seen on Oct. 7, 2020. After more than a decade in which the Supreme Court moved gradually toward more leniency for minors convicted of murder, the justices have moved the other way. The high court ruled 6-3 Thursday along ideological lines against a Mississippi inmate sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for fatally stabbing his grandfather when the defendant was 15 years old. The case is important because it marks a break with the court’s previous rulings and is evidence of the impact of a newly more conservative court.
The U.S. Supreme Court as seen on Oct. 7, 2020.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP