Segments in this Video

Southern Schools: 1990s v. 1950s (01:05)


Today, in Chester County, South Carolina, the student population is half black, half white. Before the 1950s, in the same school districts, schools and buses were entirely segregated.

Houston: The Man Who Killed Jim Crow (01:34)

In 1934, black attorney Charles Hamilton Houston documented, on film, the inequalities between black and white schools in the Jim Crow South.

Slavery, Emancipation, & Constitutional Amendements (03:11)

A timeline, from Jamestown to the end of the Civil War, chronicles the experience of African-Americans and their exclusion and faulty protection by the United States Constitution.

Plessy v. Ferguson (01:34)

In 1895, Homer Plessy sat down in a railway car reserved for white passengers and was arrested. His case went to the Supreme Court, which upheld the decision and set a surprising precedent for the rest of the country.

Separate But Equal (01:53)

Following Plessy v. Ferguson, 21 states passed laws segregating an endless list of public accommodations and ushered in the era of Jim Crow.

Jim Crow Violence (01:13)

With African-Americans experiencing little to no protection under the law, the Jim Crow era was a time of unprecedented racial violence. Over 2,000 African-Americans were lynched in the early 20th century.

Charles Hamilton Houston: Early Life & Education (01:27)

Charles Hamilton Houston was born in 1895 in Washington, D.C. He came from a privileged, educated family and graduated from Amherst College with no plans to pursue political activism.

Houston's WWI Duty & Civil Rights Epiphany (02:08)

Houston volunteered for duty in World War I, where he and other black officers experienced Jim Crow segregation and persecution in the army. It was this experience, and his coming home, which inspired him to study law and defend the oppressed.

Houston at Harvard Law (01:04)

Houston attended Harvard Law School, earning praise and accolades. Upon learning of the shortage of black southern lawyers, he urged new lawyers to go to the south and fight for justice.

Houston as Dean of Howard University (01:33)

In 1929, Houston was appointed dean of Howard University School of Law. He used his resources there to test issues and to gather a community of lawyers who would join in his fight against Jim Crow.

Houston & NAACP (01:35)

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People appointed Houston as special counsel in 1934. He identified schools as the prime battleground for fighting Jim Crow, claiming Equal Protection for education.

Houston's Long-Term Strategy (01:06)

Houston devised a two-part attack, beginning with precedent cases demanding that black schools be made absolutely equal to white schools before attacking the Plessy v. Ferguson principle directly. He understood that the Supreme Court would rule based on precedent and that districts would want to save money by abolishing separateness.

Houston's NAACP Documentary Project (00:57)

With the NAACP, Houston created visual documentation of southern school inequality and filed suit against the University of Maryland.

First Victory: Murray v. Maryland (01:50)

Donald Murray was denied admission to the only law school in his state on the basis of race. Houston, with Thurgood Marshall, represented him in his trial, which culminated in the judge demanding he be admitted to the University of Maryland.

Second Victory: Equalization of Teachers' Salaries (03:39)

Houston's next aim was to equalize teachers' salaries in the south, soliciting the support and action of black educators and administrators. In case after case, southern school districts were ordered to equalize salaries.

Third Victory: Gaines v. Missouri (02:07)

When the Missouri Supreme Court supported a school'd denial of admission to Lloyd Gaines, Houston appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Their decision, which applied to every state, was that Missouri had violated the Equal Protection Clause.

Houston's Work for Railroad Industry Integration (02:12)

In 1940, Houston left his position with the NAACP, leaving behind an outstanding team of colleagues and students. He shifted his attention to issues like preferential hiring in the railroad industry.

Work Ethic & Accomplishments (02:31)

Houston's achievments mounted even as his health deteriorated. He worked for 14-19 hours a day, dedicating his life to justice and, according to friends, not realizing his own greatness.

Houston's Death & Remembrance (01:17)

On April 22, 1950, Houston died of heart failure at the age of 54. He's remembered for having given his life to the cause of civil justice.

Integration Victories Before Brown v. Board of Education (03:26)

Following the integration of baseball and the armed forces came several Supreme Court rulings supporting Equal Protection in cases of denied admission to or segregation within institutions of higher education.

Brown v. Board of Education: Basis for Suit & Legal Teams (02:34)

Linda Brown and 4 similar plaintiffs sued school districts for denying them admission to white elementary schools. Thurgood Marshall led a team of highly skilled lawyers and experts, while John W. Davis led the defense, having appeared 140 times in front of the Supreme Court.

Brown v. Board of Education: Arguments & Trial (01:15)

The trial began on December 9, 1952 in front of a packed crowd. Davis relied on Plessy v. Ferguson, neglecting the NAACP cases which had begun to set new precedent.

Brown v. Board of Education: Ruling & Civil Rights Victory (02:52)

On May 17, 1954, seventeen months later, the Supreme Court ruled in a unanimous decision in favor of desegregation, finding that separation in education could never truly be equal. People rejoiced.

Boycott of Desegregation & KKK Terrorist Attacks (01:46)

Despite the Court's decision, southern whites protested desegregation with "massive resistance." The KKK--aided by police--murdered activists and children and burned schools and churches.

Civil Rights Movement (02:28)

Using Brown as precedent, plaintiffs suing for the desegregation of other public places and services saw growing success. This was supplemented and enforced by the participation of thousands of citizens who formed the Civil Rights Movement.

Civil Rights Act & Voting Rights Act (01:21)

One by one, protests and instances of integration mounted until, in 1964 and 1965, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

The Road Continues (02:57)

Legal segregation in the south is over, but the legacy of Jim Crow remains. Black people are more likely to live in poverty, less likely to finish high school, and far less likely to serve in political office. The country still needs activists and attorneys to continue fighting for civil justice.

Houston's Forecast for a Better Future (01:30)

In 1949, Charles Houston predicted that black Americans would not be content with their share of the existing system, but rather would seek a better system which guaranteed "justice and freedom for everyone."

Credits: The Road to Brown (02:12)

Credits: The Road to Brown

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The Road to Brown

3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



The Supreme Court’s landmark decision on Brown v. Board of Education that ruled public school segregation unconstitutional was the culmination of a brilliant legal campaign that launched the civil rights movement. This documentary tells the story of the battle to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson and of the man who led the charge—lawyer Charles Hamilton Houston, also known as “the man who killed Jim Crow.” Interviews with Houston’s associates recount how Houston energized a generation of black jurists including future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to wage the struggle against segregation. Moving from slavery to civil rights, the program provides a concise history of how African Americans finally won full legal equality. (56 minutes)

Length: 58 minutes

Item#: BVL49761

Copyright date: ©1990

Closed Captioned

Reviews & Awards

“Charles Houston’s legal campaign opened the doors of opportunity for me, my children and countless others...This dramatic portrayal should be seen by every young American. It will help them understand not only the history of the Brown case but the importance of education to us all.”  —L. Douglas Wilder, former Governor of Virginia         


“Enlightening...Makes legal history come alive.”  Booklist


49762   Shattering the Silences: The Case for Minority Faculty

“A powerfully effective film which deserves screening on all our campuses.”  —Stanley N. Katz, President, American Council of Learned Societies     


"Graphically illustrates the intolerable burdens minority faculty operate under in our majority institutions and what can be done about them. An excellent vehicle for stimulating candid discussion.”   —Reginald Wilson, Ph.D., Senior Scholar, American Council on Education    


“One of the most important films to be produced about higher education or race this decade.”  —Paula Brownlee, President, Association of American Colleges and Universities     


“Beautiful and brilliant....A must-see for anyone concerned with the dynamics of race, ethnicity, and power in the American university.”  —Arthur C. Jones, Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues         


“A powerful documentary about one of the most important ongoing transformations in higher education today.”  —Richard McCormick, President, University of Washington

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