In late 1956, over the course of several months, LIFE published what the magazine itself described as “a series of major articles on the background of the crisis brought about by the school segregation decision [Brown v. Board of Education] of the Supreme Court…. Although the ground that is to be covered in the series is not wholly new to Americans, it is unfamiliar as a subject of moderate and unprejudiced consideration.
Here, in striking color photographs that, at times, convey an unsettling intimacy, Bourke-White’s work opens a window on an era that, for better and for worse, helped define 20th century America. There is courage to be found here, and dignity and a cruelty that — in the guise of a patronizing benevolence — shaped the destinies of black and white America for decades, and still echoes in our national conversation today.

See the photos here on LIFE.com.
Not originally published in LIFE: Home inspection in a black neighborhood, Greenville, South Carolina, 1956.

In late 1956, over the course of several months, LIFE published what the magazine itself described as “a series of major articles on the background of the crisis brought about by the school segregation decision [Brown v. Board of Education] of the Supreme Court…. Although the ground that is to be covered in the series is not wholly new to Americans, it is unfamiliar as a subject of moderate and unprejudiced consideration.

Here, in striking color photographs that, at times, convey an unsettling intimacy, Bourke-White’s work opens a window on an era that, for better and for worse, helped define 20th century America. There is courage to be found here, and dignity and a cruelty that — in the guise of a patronizing benevolence — shaped the destinies of black and white America for decades, and still echoes in our national conversation today.
See the photos here on LIFE.com.

Not originally published in LIFE: Home inspection in a black neighborhood, Greenville, South Carolina, 1956.

Notes

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