Screenplay and Direction

by George
Stevens, Jr.


Discussion Questions

Scene 1: A Request for a Bus
1. What is Reverend De Laine's request and why does the superintendent refuse it?

2. What is the legal basis of the case the attorney wants Harry Briggs to file?

3. Why does Briggs decide to file the case?

Scene 2: The Fourteenth Amendment
1. Why did Harry Brigg's initial case fail, according to Marshall?

2. What approach does Marshall believe can succeed?

3. What are the objections to Marshall's approach?

4. Why does Brigg's disagree with those objections?

5. What is the legal basis of Marshall's argument, and what precedents does he cite?

Scene 3: How Shall We Fight?
1. The NAACP officials disagree about how to argue the case. What are the different positions and the arguments in support of them?

2. What are the major problems with each approach?

3. What is Marshall's decision regarding the legal strategy?

Scene 4: Effects of Segregation
1. Why do the plaintiffs turn to a social scientist for help?

2. What experiment does the social scientist conduct?

3. What conclusions does he reach based on the experiment?

4. What is the legal relevance of the experiment?

Scene 5: Changes
1. Why does John Davis's daughter not want him to defend South Carolina?

2. Why does Davis say that he is willing to take the case?

3. What is Davis's constitutional argument?

Scene 6: What is the Solution?
1. What are the main points in Marshall's opening argument to the Supreme Court?

2. What is Justice Reed's objection to Marshall's argument, and how does Marshall respond?

3. What is Justice Frankfurter's objection to Marshall's argument, and what is Marshall's response?

Scene 7: Original Intention
1. How does Davis attempt to refute Marshall's argument about the effect of segregation on African American students?

2. How does Davis explain the intention of the authors of the 14th Amendment?

3. What is Justice Douglas's objection to Davis's argument, and how does Davis respond?

Scene 8: Nobody Will Say It
1. What is the difference between Marshall's argument in this scene and his previous argument to the Court?

2. How does Marshall respond to the argument that integration would lead to violence?

3. What does Marshall say is the basis of segregation? Why does he argue that no one is willing to defend this principle?

Scene 9: The Group For Whom It Was Written
1. What does Justice Frankfurter say is the right thing to do? Why does he hesitate to do it?

2. Is there a conflict between the moral and the legal arguments in this case?

3. What argument(s) does the law clerk give against segregation? In what way is his a legal as well as moral argument?

4. Although Justice Frankfurter says that he would have given his law clerk an "A" for his argument, it is not clear that the Justice is persuaded by it, because in the next scene he says that there is no legal basis to end segregation. Why doesn't Justice Frankfurter accept the legal argument?

Scene 10: Politics and Justice
1. What does Justice Warren believe to be the basis of the separate but equal doctrine?

2. Why do Justice Frankfurter and Justice Warren, as the film presents them, reach the decision that they do? Do either of these Justices believe that they are following the law?

3. At the conclusion of the scene, what do they believe to be their main task?

Scene 11: Judicial Statesmanship
1. What is the first argument that Justice Warren makes to Justice Reed?

2. Justice Reed contends that the authors of the 14th Amendment did not intend to outlaw segregated schools. What is Justice Warren's response?

3. What does Justice Reed fear will be the result of the Court's decision?

4. Why is Justice Warren more optimistic than Justice Reed about the impact of the decision?

Scene 12: The Opinion of the Court
1. Justice Warren begins his opinion by declaring that: "We must consider public education in light of its present place in American society." Does this imply that segregation may have been acceptable in earlier periods of our history?

2. What does Justice Warren say is the central question of the case?

3. Why does he conclude that "separate is "inherently unequal"? Would this be true at all times?

4. How would Justice Frankfurter describe the struggle in Justice Reed's conscience? Does Justice Reed deserve Justice Frankfurter's praise?

Paper Topics
1. Is this case ultimately decided on the basis of the 14thAmendment?

2. If segregation was morally wrong but not legally wrong, did the Supreme Court have any right to intervene in the case?

3. Discuss the political considerations that had to be taken into account by both the attorneys and the justices? Were they decisive?

4. What are the major arguments against the Constitutionality of segregation? Which are the most persuasive and which are the least persuasive?

5. Write a majority and a dissenting opinion in the case of Brown v. Board of Education.

Separate But Equal Reading

Guide to unit 4

back to unit 4