Jim Crow's Children: The Broken Promise of the Brown Decision

Peter Irons,

Viking Penguin, 2002

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court sounded the death knell for school segregation with its decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. So goes the conventional wisdom. Weaving together vivid portraits of lawyers and such judges as Thurgood Marshall and Earl Warren, sketches of numerous black children throughout history whose parents joined lawsuits against Jim Crow schools, and gripping courtroom drama scenes, Irons shows how the erosion of the Brown decisions—especially by the Court’s rulings over the past three decades—"has led to the “resegregation” of public education in America.


Selected as the best book of 2002 in the area of Ethnic and Racial Politics in Public Policy and Law by the Organized Section on Race, Ethnicity, and Politics of the American Political Science Association (APSA)

"The court's command in Brown vs. Board of Education to end segregation by law in American public schools, rendered on May 17, 1954, would set this race-divided nation on the path that would lead, at long last, to unity. It was not to be…How the Brown decision came about, and why its promise was not kept, is the subject of Peter Irons' limpid if melancholic Jim Crow's Children…The author of A People's History of the Supreme Court and Brennan vs. Rehnquist: The Battle for the Constitution, Irons is a calm and steady writer... He takes his readers easily through the relevant court decisions and brings to life the lawyers who argued them and the judges who made them…Irons recognizes the political realities of the current state of the nation."
Los Angeles Times

“Avowed integrationist Irons powerfully summarizes Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and argues compellingly that subsequent court case have affected resegregation and the resurrection of Jim Crow... Two portions of the story are particularly wrenching and depressing: The Supreme Court’s turn to the right courtesy of Presidents Nixon, Ford, Regan and Bush I, resulting in subsequent abatements of Brown, and the author’s recent visits to the five schools whose cases were clustered as Brown. In all of them, Irons found de facto segregation, and no better evidence exists for the failures of today’s educational policy than his poignant interviews with current students. A book of sorrows—and of surpassing importance.”
Kirkus Reviews

Jim Crow’s Children, by Peter Irons, a professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego, provides an engaging, panoramic history of school desegregation, including the exhilarating breakthroughs and the heartbreaking setbacks…Irons provides fresh material by following the stories of the five communities whose lawsuits were part of the effort to dismantle segregation…”
Washington Post

“Peter Irons, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, does an able job of retracing both the long legal crusade that led to the historic decision and its disappointing aftermath….[Irons’] conclusions may be controversial among educational reformers…but given this nation’s short history of desegregation, can anybody really prove him wrong?” 
New York Times