Roberts v. City of Boston

(1850)

Audience

The immediate audience for this ruling of the Massachusetts Supreme Court was the Boston School Committee and the family of Sarah Roberts. The court clearly communicated its unwillingness to challenge the status quo that granted authority to local education boards. The ruling also sent an important message to Boston’s African American community, telling blacks that since the legal system did not create racial prejudice, the law could not erase it. Among others interested in this decision were school committees across the commonwealth of Massachusetts and advocates of school segregation throughout the United States. In the coming years, as other states in both the North and the South wrestled with issues of civil rights and segregation, Roberts v. Boston became the standard used by proponents of segregation to promote the concept of “separate but equal.”

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Charles Sumner (Library of Congress)

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