Publication Date


Degree Program

Department of History

Degree Type

Master of Arts


In 1883 the case of Claybrook v. Owensboro was one of the first challenges to equal educational funding under the Fourteenth Amendment. The definition of the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause was vague and left blacks with little guidance about their new found constitutional rights. By analyzing the case along with legal, educational, and local racial attitudes toward blacks at the time, historians and educators can better understand the evolution of the Fourteenth Amendment in state and local issues. The case record from Federal Reports as well as the case file from the law final record book at the National Archives Southeast Branch were used in this analysis. Also, Emily Holloway, the great-granddaughter of the case's namesake, Edward Claybrook, was interviewed and provided information about the personal situation and status of the men who challenged the Owensboro school system. Records from the Freedmen's Bureau also provided evidence of racial attitudes and conditions in Kentucky. A Filson Club collection of letters from John Marshall Harlan, Justice of the United States Supreme Court and lone dissenter in Plessy v. Ferguson to Judge John Watson Barr, Justice of the United States Sixth Circuit in Paducah, also provide evidence of similar attitudes of both justices concerning race and equality. This case study offers a closer look at one of the first applications of the Fourteenth Amendment to education and a local government issue. In addition, the decision mentions for one of the first times the possibility of integration in the absence of equality. The evidence clearly shows a progressive attitude from the bench in the case as well as blatant inequalities between the black and white schools.


History | Race and Ethnicity | United States History