On this day in history…

Aundra Willis Carrasco
3 min readMay 17, 2024


May 17, 1954

An iconic photo as U.S. history was changed.

A decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case declared the “separate but equal” doctrine unconstitutional. The landmark decision gave the NAACP Legal Defense Fund its most celebrated victory in a long, storied history of fighting for civil rights and marked a defining moment in US history. Under the leadership of Thurgood Marshall, who founded the LDF in 1940, The group approached the high court with the argument that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees equal protection of the laws and that racial segregation violated that principle. The landmark decision in Brown v. Board remains a defining moment in U.S. history. Dismantling segregation in public schools was a tremendous incentive for change in Black life and a catalyst for the civil rights movement.

As I wrote in my recently published book, Winston Willis: A Memoir:

…A couple of months later, all of Montgomery as well as the entire nation was captured by the announcement of the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous Brown vs. Board of Education decision. The landmark decision on May 17 overran the “separate but equal” ruling in segregated schools and led to the dismantling of racial discrimination in public facilities, including public libraries. But in the city of Montgomery, as in most Southern states, there was massive resistance to integration of any kind from the White citizenry. Government officials were not shy about revealing their intentions not to comply with the high court’s ruling and they stated so at every opportunity. However, in the immediate aftermath of the announcement, Negro citizens, being newly validated and invigorated, would challenge previous restrictions they had been forced to live under. One memorable event occurred onboard a city bus when several of our cousins, all high school girls, and feeling emboldened after the high court’s announcement, decided to test the reach of the Brown decision. After boarding the bus and paying their fares, each one of the girls claimed a seat in the front area of the bus. And predictably, the driver became irate and demanded that they “…move on back there to the Colored section where y’all belong.” But immediately, and in complete unison, the girls reminded the fuming bus driver of the news about the U.S. Supreme Court event, informing him that he was in violation of the 14th Amendment, and actually reading it to him from a copy of the document that they happened to be carrying.

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Of course, this meant nothing to the bus driver, who continued his racist verbal assault. And after he continued to harass them and insist that they move to the rear of the bus, the girls refused to comply and proudly exited the bus. Ironically, the very next year, another single defiant act of civil disobedience by our mother’s childhood friend and classmate, Mrs. Rosa Parks lit the spark of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

This evening at 8:00 p.m. EST, Turner Classic Movies is showing the 1991 award-winning film, Separate but Equal starring Sidney Poitier.