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Education Resources on School Desegregation

School Desegregation and Civil Rights Stories:
Girard College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Following the Supreme Courts' Brown v. Board decision ending de jure segregation in all public school systems, Philadelphia moved slowly to carry out the court's ruling. In the public schools, several actions by the School Board including moving Northeast High School out of North Philadelphia, furthered segregation and limited opportunities for African-Americans children. In another public arena, the admissions policy of Girard College became one of the significant tests of school segregation in the City of Philadelphia.

In his will dated February 16, 1830, Stephen Girard, a wealthy Philadelphia merchant, stipulated the establishment of a school for white males between six and eighteen years of age. Under the will, Girard having "sincerely at heart the welfare of the City of Philadelphia" left the principal part of his estate to "the Mayor, Alderman and citizens of Philadelphia, their successors and assigns" money for a number of charitable purposes of which the school was one. The purpose of these gifts was to foster "the prosperity of the City, and the health and comfort of its inhabitants." At the time of Girard's death, Philadelphia had fewer than 9,900 black inhabitants, who under then existing law had their citizenship rights decimated by regressive state legislation. In January 1848 the Girard College opened for the education of white male orphans.

Although not part of the Philadelphia public school system, Girard College was administrated by the Board of City Trusts on behalf of a public entity that is required to abide by federal laws. The first plaintiffs to seek admission at Girard College were represented by Raymond Pace Alexander, a distinguished African American attorney and member of Philadelphia City Council. They held that the College presented itself as an institution that was "municipal in nature", namely a public boarding school or orphanage. They further asserted that because the State associated with the school, the College's racial discrimination was unconstitutional.

Mayor Joseph Clark and City Council President James Finnegan, both ex-officio members of the Board of City Trusts, tried to persuade the Girard College board to admit the young men and seek a later decision by the courts. However, the other board members did not agree and maintained Girard's will superseded as well as antedated both the Brown decision and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Lengthy litigation ensued through state and federal courts in Pennsylvania. By the mid-1960's this dispute produced tremendous public agitation in the community and resulted in numerous civic demonstrations outside of the Girard College "wall".

More than thirteen years after Brown, a final ruling and affirmation by the Supreme Court of the United States found that Girard's will was superseded by the Brown decision. The school's trustees were "permanently enjoined from denying admission of poor male orphans on the sole ground that they are not white, provided they are otherwise qualified for admission". The first African American students were eventually granted admission to the school in 1968.

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Documents and Photographs

Final Decree, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al v. Revelle W. Brown, et al
Final Decree, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al v. Revelle W. Brown, et al, Civil Action No. 39494, July 5, 1967, United States District Court, The Eastern District of Pennsylvania, National Archives Mid Atlantic Branch.
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Notice to Attorneys, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al v. Revelle W. Brown, et al
Notice to Attorneys, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, et al v. Revelle W. Brown, et al, Civil Action No. 39494, July 5, 1967, United States District Court, The Eastern District of Pennsylvania, National Archives Mid Atlantic Branch.
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No Trespass Wall Sign at Girard College, 1965
No Trespass Wall Sign at Girard College, 1965, John Franklin Photograph Collection, African American Museum of Philadelphia.
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Community Protesters Outside the Gate at Girard College, 1965
Community Protesters Outside the Gate at Girard College, 1965, John Franklin Photograph Collection, African American Museum of Philadelphia.
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Youths Protesters, 1965
Youths Protesters, 1965, John Franklin Photograph Collection, African American Museum of Philadelphia.
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Protesters from the Religious Community, 1965
Protesters from the Religious Community, 1965, John Franklin Photograph Collection, African American Museum of Philadelphia.
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Protesters from Norristown, Pa. NAACP, 1965
Protesters from Norristown, Pa. NAACP, 1965, John Franklin Photograph Collection, African American Museum of Philadelphia.
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Police Action at Demonstration, 1965
Police Action at Demonstration, 1965, John Franklin Photograph Collection, African American Museum of Philadelphia.
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Other School Desegregation and Civil Rights Stories:

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The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
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