Over the course of this trip, I have found that research can quickly become frustrating. Sometimes the questions you want answered can’t be answered by the resources that you have available. You cannot make papers just materialize because you really want them. You will almost never open a file and find a treasure trove of documents that all have to do with the subject you are researching. More often than not, you are painstakingly deciphering handwritten notes only to realize that they are not pertinent to your research topic.
However, every now and then, you stumble across something that revitalizes your drive to keep going. After two full days of research on the Supreme Court and education, I was frustrated by my lack of beginning. Through the justices’ papers I saw where my story ended, and I even saw its middle – but the genesis of the issue had not fully revealed itself. I decided to grab a box of correspondence mail from Justice Douglas’s papers on Brown v. Board of Education, something I wouldn’t usually do because correspondence – usually fan or hate mail about a certain decision – is not relevant to my research. Frankly, I was bored and frustrated and thought that even if none of the material was helpful, I could read some entertaining mail. I opened the box to find a file that read “Dockets and Conference Notes”.
In this file, I found the original dockets and conference notes for not only Brown v. Board of Education, but for almost every major segregation case that occurred from 1951-1954. Here was my beginning, here is where the issue of a right to education was born. There were pages and pages of what every justice thought about the issue of segregation, and their beliefs about the best course of action. I was able to see justices go from not even wanting to touch the issue of segregation, to believing that the end of segregation was necessary, to creating a right to education in order end segregation in schools.
Brown v. Board of Education, a case that almost every person has been educated on at some point in their life, was not a straight forward decision. There wasn’t even overwhelming support from the justices at the beginning, and some came to the choice with reluctance. Yet, at the end, they chose to write a united opinion for the case, because they were acutely aware that the decision would only have power if the court spoke with one voice.
Finding the beginning of my story made the process of research much more rewarding. It allowed me to go through the later cases I had looked at with new eyes and allowed me to think more critically about how and why the justices made certain choices about education. I had a solid foundation, all because I chose to look in a box that I believed wouldn’t be important.