For several years prior to the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board in 1954, the Legal Defense Fund had tested cases in the south and Border States. Each had required the courageous participation of ordinary men and women who faced overwhelming opposition, intimidation and in some cases the risk of physical harm in lending their names to these pioneering cases, which would collectively be presented to the Supreme Court under the name of Brown v. Board.

Bolling v. Sharpe originated in Washington, DC in 1947 when a group of parents organized as the Consolidated Parents Group, Inc., represented by special counsel to the NAACP Charles Houston, argued for the admission of eleven Negro students to the newly constructed John Philip Sousa Junior High School. When Houston became ill, his colleague James Nabrit, Jr. took the case, and he did not argue along the lines that the seperate facilities were unequal, but that segregation itself was unacceptable. Despite the fact that the school wasn't filled to capacity with white students, the plaintiffs were denied. Before the LDF could secure an appeal, the case was added to the Supreme Court docket along with the others that made up the Brown petition.

Briggs v. (versus) Elliott was named for Harry Briggs, one of the parents assembled by a fearless High School Principal, the Rev. J. A. DeLaine, who first brought suit against R. W. Elliott, the president of the school board of Clarendon, South Carolina in 1950. Thurgood Marshal and Harold Boulware argued the case, and used evidence asserting that the inequality of the separate facilities must be addressed. De Laine faced repeated violent attacks from whites, who fired shotguns into, and set fire to, his house, forcing him to flee the state for his own safety.

Davis v. (versus) the County School Board of Prince Edward County originated in 1951 when Barbara Rose Johns, the niece of the venerable Baptist minister Vernon Johns and a high school student in Farmville Virginia, led a student strike to protest substandard conditions at the all-Black Moton High School. NAACP lawyers Spottswood Robinson and Oliver Hill filed suit on behalf of one hundred seventeen students. The U.S. District Court denied the petition, citing a lack of evidence of any negative effects on either race from the forced separation, despite the fact that Moton didn't even have restrooms for the faculty, and the students were so overcrowded that many were housed in tar-paper out-buildings and even an old school bus. When the Brown case overturned the ruling, County officials cut off all funding for the School Board, and actually shut down the schools for five years rather than see them integrated. Barbara Johns left the state for her own safety after the case was argued.

Brown v. (versus) the Board of Education of Topeka was also first filed in 1951. A year before, with the support of the local NAACP, thirteen parents, including Oliver Brown, had unsuccessfully attempted to enroll their children in their all-white neighborhood schools. Fund lawyers Robert Carter and Jack Greenberg assisted local lawyers Charles Bledsoe, Charles Scott and John Scott in filing the suit. The District Court denied the case, but accepted the social-psychological argument first presented in Briggs v. Elliott, which asserted that segregation was damaging to black children. These findings were later cited by the Supreme Court in their landmark ruling.

Delaware had two different cases challenging the "Separate but Equal" doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson. It was the only suit among the five heard collectively as Brown v. Board that was successful at the state level. The ground-breaking decision caused Marshall to comment, ‘This is the first real victory in our campaign to destroy segregation of American pupils in elementary and high schools.’ Belton v. (versus) Gebhart and Bulah v. (versus) Gebhart sought admission for Ethel Belton and Shirley Bulah to their all white neighborhood schools. Particularly infuriating to the Bulah family was the fact that a "white" school bus passed by their house twice a day, but would not allow Shirley to board.

In 1951, Jack Greenberg assisted Louis Redding in successfully presenting cases before Chancellor Collins Seitz in Delaware's Court of Chancery. Psychiatrist Frederick Wertham from the LaFargue Clinic in New York provided expert testimony, along with Kenneth Clark who administered his doll tests to black school children in Wilmington. The Chancellor ruled that "equal protection of the law" was not being provided to the Belton and Bulah children, and ordered eleven black children admitted to white schools. The decision, however, did not remedy the situation, and even after the case was affirmed by the Supreme Court, it would take years before schools in Delaware began to truly integrate.

By the summer of 1953, the Republican president Dwight Eisenhower was well into his first term in office. The Cold War was escalating and McCarthyism was making its way into the national vocabulary. Distracted by more sensational news, few whites in the North or South displayed any enthusiasm for the Brown case.

In the courtroom, Marshall faced a formidable adversary in the aged but still impassioned John W. Davis, who had been the Democratic candidate for President in 1924. Eighty and eloquent, Davis led the opposition, asserting that there was no basis for the claim that the Fourteenth Amendment included in its scope the idea of equal public education.

Marshall held his ground. No less a master presenter, he and his elite corps of lawyers from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund argued the facts and presented expert testimony before a crowded Supreme Court chamber. He argued that the South was guilty of "an inherent determination that the people who were formerly in slavery, regardless of anything else, shall be kept as near that stage as is possible, and now is the time, we submit that this Court should make it clear that that is not what our Constitution stands for."

Following the arguments, the nine Justices deliberated independently and in conference, asking for response to five key questions. In June of 1953, the Court restored the segregation cases to its docket. At center was the history of the 14th amendment and whether it was intended to address segregation in education. The postponement threatened to bankrupt the Fund and the NAACP issued urgent appeals for support.

During the postponement, the Fund secured the services of eminent historians and educators. Among the scholars was Horace Mann Bond, president of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, who offered a thesis linking the effects of the 14th Amendment and the development of public education.

On September 8, 1953, conservative Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson, who had led the Supreme Court for three terms, died unexpectedly of a heart attack. He was sixty-three years old. This event marked a change in the makeup of the court, and many scholars believe this paved the way to the final Brown v. Board decision.

Eisenhower appointed former California Governor Earl Warren as Vinson's replacement as Chief Justice. On December 7, 1953 the school segregation cases were again called for presentation. The argument lasted for three days. Warren proved to be a strong voice in favor of desegregation, and took it upon himself to personally pore over the details of the cases with his fellow Justices in an effort to bring a unanimous decision on the matter.

In the new year, as the Court considered its decision in the case of Brown v. Board, Earl Warren was invited to a White House Dinner where the President seated him next to John W. Davis. Eisenhower called Davis ‘a great American.’ Like others, Eisenhower held the view that the cause of civil rights for African Americans was advancing, albeit slowly, and that that to force it by legal action was confrontational.

The Legal Defense Fund Team had now had reached consensus on the view that, although the 14th Amendment did not specifically include a ban on segregated education, by all measure there was no public educational system in the country at the time. Therefore, they would argue, that the framers of the 14th Amendment would naturally not have addressed segregated schools. But, had there been a public educational system at the time, they would most certainly have addressed segregation in education. The 20th century, supporters argued, required a new and final definition of the role of race in education.

The Court agreed, stating that historical precedent in the case of education was irrelevant to the present day demands that required equal access to quality education in order to succeed in the contemporary world. On May 17, 1954, the Court announced a unanimous decision in favor of the Plaintiffs. Though included in Brown, the Supreme Court issued a separate opinion in Bolling v. Sharpe, based upon the 5th Amendment and due process, as the 14th Amendment was not applicable in the District of Columbia.

Earl Warren issued his first major opinion as Chief Justice. ‘In these days,’ Warren wrote, ‘it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education.‘ Less than ten minutes later, he summarized, ’In view of our decision that the Constitution prohibits the states from maintaining racially segregated public schools, it would be unthinkable that the same Constitution would impose a lesser duty on the Federal Government.’