May 17, 1954: U.S. Supreme Court Rules Racial Segregation in Schools Unconstitutional

May 17, 2018

Credit e-WV Encyclopedia / WV State Archives (WVSA), Marion County Historical Society Collection.

On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Brown v. Board of Education that segregated schools are unconstitutional, leading eventually to the integration of all schools across the country.

Our state’s public schools had been segregated since West Virginia entered the Union in 1863. After the Brown decision, Governor William Marland announced that West Virginia would follow the high court’s ruling. While some counties integrated their school systems peacefully, others were not as willing. Greenbrier County returned to a segregated school system after a one-week trial run in which 300 students at White Sulphur Springs High walked out of school. There were also protests in Boone, McDowell, Taylor, Berkeley, and Mineral counties. Events took a violent turn in Mercer County when black students were attacked trying to enter Matoaka High School.

By the end of the 1956 school year, nearly half the state’s county school systems had been fully integrated, and 21 had been partially integrated. However, the Eastern Panhandle counties of Berkeley, Hampshire, and Jefferson were still entirely segregated. All West Virginia schools weren’t fully integrated until the late 1960s.