Document Type


Publication Date

January 2005


Thirteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Equal Protection/Rights, Brown v. Board of Education, Maryland Apprenticeship System, In Re Turner


In Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the United States Supreme Court ruled that segregation and separate but equal policies were unconstitutional. By focusing on the Fourteenth Amendment and race-specific social science data in its opinion, the Court overlooked the Thirteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection, including equal access to education. The Court’s decision “would rest on a much more sound footing if [it] had paid more attention to the history of the Thirteenth Amendment and its accompanying case law.”

By disregarding the Thirteenth Amendment, which had abolished slavery, the Court emphasized the racist attitudes of opponents of Civil War Amendments over the egalitarian attitudes of proponents of those amendments. According to the legislative history, supporters of the Thirteenth Amendment intended the amendment to abolish slavery, as well as to guarantee equal protection to citizens, irregardless of race or color.

The Court in Brown also disregarded several important cases, particularly Maryland’s In Re Turner (1867), that would have provided a firmer foundation for its decision. Maryland apprenticeship laws, which were passed after Maryland’s new constitution (1864) abolished slavery, controlled African-American labor. In Re Turner, decided after the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, the Maryland Court of Appeals declared Maryland’s apprenticeship system for African-American children unconstitutional because it contained provisions for educating African-American apprentices that were different from provisions for educating white apprentices. Comparing In Re Turner to Adeline Brown v. State (1865), decided one month before the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, the Maryland Court of Appeals in Adeline Brown declared the same statute constitutional.