Historical Background

In the fall of 1943, the New York State Commissioner of Education had an important decision to make. Commissioner Stoddard had received a petition from the African American residents of the Village of Hillburn for equal educational opportunities for their children. For more than a decade, the parents of African American children in this small New York community had struggled to obtain the same level of educational accommodations as the white children in their village. A redrawing of the district lines in the 1930s placed all but a few African American students in the Brook School which lacked indoor plumbing, a library, and an area for recreation. All of the white students, according to the new district lines, were assigned to the Main School which was newer and furnished with all the modern amenities. 

The legal battle for desegregation in Hillburn, New York is documented in the Appeal Files of the Commissioner of Education held by the New York State Archives. Through these documents, researchers and students can learn about the struggle for desegregation of schools in New York State. Eleven years before the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Thurgood Marshall served as council through the NAACP in the Hillburn Case. These individual cases throughout the United States led to the eventual ruling by the Supreme Court to desegregate American schools. By reading the evidence in the Hillburn Case, students of history can see the role of individual citizens in the fight for equality in America's public schools.