The words are some of the most iconic to ever come out of the U.S. Supreme Court: "We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."
Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that in his 1954 opinion in the case Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed racial segregation in the nation's public schools. He highlighted the importance of the issue, saying education is perhaps the most important function carried out by state governments and that the circumstances of a child's schooling have a profound effect on their life.
"To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone," Warren wrote.
On Wednesday, White House Special Advisor Valerie Jarrett is hosting a group of educators to mark the 62nd anniversary of the ruling and look at how issues related to segregation still persist.
"The meeting will be an opportunity to recommit to the critical work that remains, remembering that the outcome in Brown v. Board was never inevitable," Jarrett said ahead of the event.
Getting to the Brown decision was itself a nearly 60-year journey set off by the Supreme Court's 1896 decision in the case Plessy v. Ferguson.
Homer Plessy was a black man who was told to vacate a train car designated for whites in the southern state of Louisiana. He sued, saying his rights were violated under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that says no state shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
The Supreme Court ruled against Plessy in an 8-1 decision.
"We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff's argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it," Justice Henry Billings Brown wrote. His decision also said legislation cannot overcome social prejudices.
The laws allowing racial segregation on train cars were part of what were know as the Jim Crow laws that persisted for decades largely across the southern United States. They enforced things like separate drinking fountains for blacks and whites and separate schools. There were also extreme rules and taxes imposed on blacks who tried to vote, keeping most from participating in elections and helping white leaders remain in power.
By the time the Brown case reached the Supreme Court, some 17 states had legalized segregation in public schools, almost all in the South.
The effort to fight the laws was led by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which recruited families in Topeka, Kansas to fight the city's school system. Linda Brown was one of the students involved. Her family complained that she was barred from attending a white school much closer to their home and instead forced to go to a worse school farther away.