“In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right that must be made available on equal terms.” – Chief Justice Earl Warren, Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
Remember when you attended elementary school and there were too many other students to get the teacher’s attention? When you wanted help with a math problem but couldn’t get it because too many other kids wanted help with the same problem? When your textbooks were worn and outdated? When your classroom was falling apart around you? When your teachers thought little of your prospects? When society consigned you to a life of racial and class inequity, a life in which it was assumed you’d fail? No? Let me tell you a story.
In 1951 Linda Brown, a third-grader who lived in Topeka, Kansas, had to walk a mile to get to school despite the fact that she lived about seven blocks from an all-white school she wasn’t allowed to attend. She couldn’t understand why she couldn’t go to the same school as the whites in her area.
During that time, “separate but equal” laws maintained a public education system that was failing its African American learners. They seriously lagged their white peers in outcomes and access to the resources necessary to excel. College was a dream deferred for many as learners couldn’t attend majority white institutions. Majority minority schools, located in racially segregated districts, contained overcrowded classrooms, poorly maintained facilities and lack of access to the up-to-date resources available in white districts. This left African American learners at a persistent disadvantage.
The Topeka chapter of the NAACP sought to overturn “separate but equal” education altogether. It filed a lawsuit, the 12th in a series of them, meant to completely dismantle it.
“What the Brown decision did was it broke the silence, said Cheryl Brown Henderson, daughter of the later Reverend Oliver L. Brown, one of 12 parents who filed the suit that would become Brown v. Board of Education. “It made the country start talking about racism and segregation and discrimination and second-class citizenship and all of those things.”
Educational integration’s effects are clear, according to researchers: improved learner outcomes, upward social mobility for poor and underserved populations, increased lifetime earnings, and liberal attitudes toward race and class; people think and act better when they’re exposed to and educated with other racial and ethnic groups.
Brown v. Board of Education dealt directly with segregation and ruled that even if tangible factors like facilities, teachers and supplies were equal, separation itself was inherently unequal and a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. It compelled a generation of men and women to become educators, administrators, and community leaders, each eager to continue the fight for equality that began all those years ago.
Today, we encourage you to continue the important work of integrating and improving schools in your communities, to lift others up, to support access to high quality education for everyone, everywhere.
The Brown Foundation, Cheryl Brown Henderson Biography, http://brownvboard.org/content/cheryl-brown- henderson, 2/7/17, 11:55 a.m.
The Leadership Conference, Brown v. Board of Education (Kansas), 1/22/17, 4:36 p.m. http://www.civilrights.org/education/brown/brown.html
PBS News Hour, Brown v. Board of Education, pbs.org, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/law-jan-june04-brown_05- 12/, 2/7/17 11:40 a.m.