To truly understand the history of racism and Black history in the United States, it is vital that we understand how the Supreme Court has ruled on important racial matters, and how these rulings have set the stage for the issues we face today.


Although it is not nearly an all-encompassing list, the three important Supreme Court decisions below are some of the most vital rulings concerning Black Americans in United States history.


Scottsboro Boys

The Scottsboro Boys were a group of nine Black teenagers who were falsely accused of raping two white women in 1931. Despite committing no crimes, the boys spent years in Alabama prisons, eight were sentenced to death, and they were threatened with lynchings by angry mobs outside the jail.


After multiple trials, the case went to the Supreme Court. In Powell v. Alabama, the Court ruled that the defendants had been denied their right to due process under the 14th Amendment and remanded the case to lower courts.


However, prosecutors then put the case in front of a more sympathetic judge, and the boys were given death sentences again. In Norris v. Alabama, the Supreme Court again overturned the verdicts, ruling that a fair trial did not take place. This ruling was a huge victory for groups like the NAACP.


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Loving v. Virginia

In Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court struck down state laws that banned interracial marriage, deciding that they were unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment. The ruling allowed Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and black woman who were arrested by Virginia police for their marriage, to legally marry in Virginia. It also influenced Obergefell v. Hodges, the ruling that legalized gay marriage in the United States.


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Brown v. Board of Education

This landmark Supreme Court decision in 1954 ruled that “separate-but-equal” segregated schools were not equal between whites and blacks, and therefore violated the 14th Amendment. In the ruling, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that “in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place,” largely because of the significantly higher levels of quality of white schools compared with Black schools. This case overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, which ruled that racially segregated public facilities were constitutional, so long as the quality was equal for all races.


Brown v. Board of Education fueled the Civil Rights Movement and has influenced Supreme Court rulings for decades.


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