An official website of the United States government
Here’s how you know
Home » Justice Blogs
May 17, 2021
Courtesy of Former Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan
Today we mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s groundbreaking decision in Brown v. Board of Education, when the Court declared that “separate but equal” was no longer the law of the land. We mark this occasion by reflecting on the promise of Brown and on our unfinished work to deliver on that promise 67 years later.
Brown was both an end, and a beginning. It was the culmination of a multi-year and nationwide campaign of students, parents, advocates, and lawyers to change the law on the books and to establish the unconstitutionality of school segregation. But it was only the beginning of a quest to make real the promise of that ruling in school districts and communities across the country—a quest that continues today.
On a personal note, a dozen years after Brown, I began kindergarten in a public school that had only three Black students. By the time I had graduated, the system had adopted a voluntary busing plan across my city’s neighborhoods and my high school was then 35% Black. Before my last year of high school, in the summer of 1975, I read Simple Justice—a marvelous history of the litigation that led up to Brown. I decided I wanted to go to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and be a school desegregation lawyer. And though through twists and turns, I ended up doing primarily voting rights and employment discrimination litigation instead, I never forget the central role schools play. They are, as the Court wrote in Brown, “perhaps the most important function of state and local governments.”
Brown was the consolidation of four cases — from Delaware, South Carolina, Topeka, and Prince Edward County, Virginia. In each, Black students had been denied admittance to certain public schools because of the color of their skin. That last case, arising from Prince Edward County, Virginia, has a special resonance when reflecting today on the pursuit of inclusive schools.
Barbara Johns, whose statue now stands in the Nation’s Capitol, was 16 years old when she grew tired of seeing the roomy school bus for white students drive by while she waited for her always overcrowded bus to arrive. Every day Barbara’s bus transported her to a small, ill-equipped schoolhouse in a rural farming town in Prince Edward County. So, one spring day 70 years ago, she organized a student-led walkout to protest the inferior facilities.  Later, she and another student wrote a letter to the NAACP asking for help. Simple Justice describes how the students in that strike were threatened with discipline for standing up, as well as how their lawyers took their case to the Supreme Court.
The Brown decision marked the beginning of a decades-long fight to realize the promise of true equality. This fight was met with massive resistance.
Prince Edward County, where Barbara Johns led the walkout, closed its public schools—all of them—rather than desegregate. The schools remained closed for six years until another Supreme Court decision forced county leaders to reopen them. Even 25 years later, when I was teaching at the University of Virginia, many of Prince Edward County’s white students continued to attend private schools that had opened as segregation academies.
There were lawsuits throughout the country seeking to realize the promises of Brown filed by the Department of Justice, but also by public interest organizations like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU, and others. Some of those lawsuits are still going on a half century later. The Civil Rights Division is still involved in 140—a sobering number.
At first, the lawsuits were simply about getting Black students into the same buildings as their white counterparts. But in the decades since Brown, DOJ has fought alongside students and families to achieve equality inside those buildings. In doing that work, we have confronted the lingering effects of state-sponsored segregation. And we have found new and sometimes subtle forms of discrimination.
The legacy of Brown is at risk when students of color face unfair school discipline and arrest; when students with disabilities face unnecessary segregation; when students are punished for not following dress and grooming codes that are rooted in race and gender stereotypes; and when students are forced to learn in hostile environments where they are harassed, sometimes even by school officials, for being who they are. Discriminatory discipline and unchecked harassment, like overt racial segregation can, in Brown’s words, affect students’ “hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.”
In the Civil Rights Division, we recognize the progress we have made since Brown. We acknowledge that the struggle continues. To all of the advocates, educators, parents, and students, who—like Barbara Johns —are using their voices to address the ongoing inequality in our nation’s schools: we are paying attention. And we are working each day to make the Brown real, for all students. Thank you for making your voices heard.
Civil Rights
Civil Rights Division
The Justice Department Commemorates the Anniversary of Olmstead v. L.C.
June 22, 2021
22 years ago today, the Supreme Court decided Olmstead v. L.C. , a landmark decision on the rights of people with disabilities.
The Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Honors Contributions of African-Americans to the Armed Forces During Black History Month
February 26, 2021
Each year, Black History Month gives us the opportunity to reflect on and appreciate the contributions that African-Americans have made in all aspects of our Nation’s history, including within the armed services. Many have valiantly volunteered their lives to protect the freedoms of the citizens of a country that has not always provided them with those same freedoms. African-Americans have contributed to military life throughout the entirety of American history, serving in every conflict since the Nation’s inception. As of 2015, African-Americans made up 17% of active duty military members, more than their 13% share of the U.S. population. Many consider the first casualty of the Revolutionary War to be Crispus Attucks, a Black man shot during the Boston Massacre while protesting British oppression. During the Civil War, Harriet Tubman served as a spy for the Union Army and led troops in combat, in addition to her role helping hundreds escape slavery through the Underground Railroad. And, most recently, on January 22, 2021, Secretary Lloyd Austin became the first African-American to lead the Department of Defense.
Department of Justice Celebrates 20th Anniversary of the Olmstead Supreme Court Decision Protecting the Rights of Americans with Disabilities
June 19, 2019
Twenty years ago this week, the Supreme Court issued the groundbreaking decision in Olmstead v. L.C. , holding that unjustified segregation of people with disabilities in institutions is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This decision led to the development of new opportunities for individuals with disabilities to live and work in their communities. To enforce the holding of Olmstead , the Department of Justice has addressed the unnecessary segregation of people with physical, mental health, or intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in various residential and non-residential settings, nationwide. Nearly 50,000 people benefit from statewide settlements giving them the opportunity to receive health, residential, employment, and day services in their communities and, where appropriate and consistent with their informed decision, to leave, or avoid entering, segregated institutions.
Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative Pride Month 2021 Statement
June 25, 2021
In recognition of Pride Month, the Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative (SVI) of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division recognizes the contributions and sacrifices the LGBTQI+ community has made in service to the United States through its Armed Forces. These Americans have faced historic and significant barriers to serving openly in our military, yet they currently serve at rates greater than their share of the U.S. population. [1] [1] Rand - 2015 Health Related Behaviors Survey Sexual Orientation, Transgender Identity, and Health Among U.S. Active-Duty Service Members -
Updated May 28, 2021
Speeches and Press Releases
Contact DOJ
Information Quality
Privacy Policy
Legal Policies & Disclaimers
Social Media
Budget & Performance
Office of the Inspector General
For Employees
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001
Stay Connected with Justice:

Email Updates
AboutBudget & PerformanceHistoryPrivacy ProgramOur AgencyThe Attorney GeneralOrganizational ChartAlphabetical ListingTopicsNewsVideosPhotosBlogsPodcastsResourcesGuidance DocumentsGrantsFormsPublicationsInformation for Victims in Large CasesJustice ManualCareersLegal CareersVeteran RecruitmentDisability HiringContact