Brown Case - Bolling v. Sharpe

Bolling, et. al. v. C. Melvine Sharpe, et. al. (DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA)


Since its inception, Washington, D.C. has been home to a significant population of African Americans.  Yet as the nation’s capitol, the District of Columbia, did not set a positive example regarding rare relations, it merely followed custom.  Washington, D.C. was firmly rooted in racial segregation.

After World War II, the country moved to integrate the military, Washington, D.C. seemed uninterested in challenging racial custom.  By 1950 the traditional African American community leadership, i. e. churches, sororities, lodges, had failed to organize any protest against the run down facilities that served as schools for their children.  Even most parents with Agood@ wages from government jobs remained silent in the matter of substandard segregated schools.  That same year the owner of a local African American barbershop stepped forward and filled the leadership void in the matter of better schools for their children.  His name was Gardner Bishop, a man who simply knew civil right from social wrong.

It has been reported that on September 11, 1950 Bishop led a group of eleven African American children to the cities new high school for white students.  The school, named for John Phillip Sousa, was a large modern building, boasting of multiple basketball courts and spacious classrooms.  At that moment Gardner Bishop asked for admittance for the African American students that had accompanied him to see Sousa High School.  It seemed clear that the building could accommodate a higher enrollment.  His request was denied, ensuring the African American students a continued unequal educational experience.

Bishop had been organizing, parents to take action regarding the poor school their children were assigned to.  After his field trip to Sousa High, it was time for action.  He approached Attorney Charles Houston on their behalf.  The idea was to request a facility, equal to that of Sousa High, constructed for their children.  Houston worked on this case independently; it was not a NAACP case. 

In 1950 while preparing the Bolling case, Charles Hamilton Houston was stricken with a heart attack.  As a result he asked colleague and friend James Nabritt, Jr. to help Gardner Bishop and his group.  At that point the idea of equalization of facilities was rejected by Nabritt and replaced by a challenge to segregation per se.

In 1951 in U.S. District court, the case of Bolling v. Sharpe, was filed.  This case was named for Spottswood Thomas Bolling, one of the children who accompanied Gardner Bishop to Sousa High.  He was among those denied admission based solely on race.

Although unsuccessful, Nabritt trusted his concept of an all out attack on segregation.  The Bolling case would later meet with success as one of the cases combined under Brown v. Board of Education.