Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Michael . Michael Wonders, “How did segregation start?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Michael !

Have you ever heard someone call the United States “melting pot”? It’s a common saying. It means America is home to many different people.  In a melting pot, people with different cultures work and live side-by-side. Their differences help make the country stronger.

However, the U.S. hasn’t always looked much like a melting pot. For many years, the U.S. was segregated. This meant people of different races were kept separate and treated differently. 

In the U.S., segregation was legal until 1954. During that time, the most well-known conflicts were between White and Black Americans. They couldn’t live in the same areas. Their children couldn’t go to the same schools. They even had to use separate public facilities, like restrooms and water fountains.

Many people thought this was unfair. Some tried to bring about change. However, it was an uphill battle. People with racist views worked to keep segregation in place.  

In 1896, Homer Plessy sued the state of Louisiana. He wanted to end segregation in train cars. His case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. But he lost. The court  ruled that people of different races could be “separate but equal.” For years to come, people used this case to support continued segregation.

Another challenge came from the Lum family of Mississippi. Martha Lum, a Chinese American, had been expelled from her school because of her race. Her family and others in the community challenged this action in 1927. However, the Supreme Court again ruled that segregation could continue.

People were separate, but they definitely weren’t equal. The U.S. government was not treating all Americans the same.  One place this was most obvious was in public schools. Schools for children of color weren’t as well cared for as those for White children. Often, the teachers weren’t paid very well. The schools couldn’t afford many supplies. Due to low funding, buildings went without repairs. At the same time, White schools received more funding and were better maintained. 

It was many years before things started to change. In 1946, another challenge to school segregation finally succeeded. It was the case Mendez v. Westminster. Five Mexican American families sued a California school district. They pointed out the inequality caused by segregated schools. Their children were being forced to go to schools that weren’t able to offer students equal education. A California court ruled that school segregation went against the 14th Amendment

However, segregation was still going on in other states. In 1954, thirteen Black families challenged segregation in Topeka, Kansas. They pointed out that segregation stopped their children from receiving equal protection under the law. At the end of the trial, the Supreme Court agreed with them. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka made school segregation illegal in every state.

Was that the end of segregation? Not exactly. Many White people fought to keep segregation. Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement kept working for equality. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. led marches. Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus. Students like Ruby Bridges desegregated public schools. Sit-ins were held at segregated restaurants. Slowly, things began to change.

Today, students of all races go to school together. Other public places are also desegregated. America is moving closer to becoming a melting pot. However, most agree there’s still work to be done.

Can you help make an America that lives up to the name “melting pot”? Of course! When you meet people who are different from you, try to learn about them. Remember that differences shouldn’t be scary. Instead, differences can make life more interesting. Always look for similarities between yourself and people who seem different from you. You may be more alike than you think!

Standards: C3.D2.His.2,C3.D2.His.4, C3.D2.Civ.6, C3.D2.Civ.14, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.9, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, C3.D2.Geo.3, C3.D2.Geo.5, C3.D2.Geo.6, CCRA.W.7, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10

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