This year we will celebrate the fifty fifth anniversary of the landmark Brown v Board of Education case successfully argued before Supreme Court of the United States. It is also very appropriate at this time to also take this opportunity to recognize the skill of the late great Thurgood Marshall who brilliantly won this case and more than fifty other cases before the Supreme Court – winning all of them.
This case changed the face of America in away unlike any other decision. The Brown case, as it is known, was not the first such case regarding civil rights argued before the court it is worth mentioning. It was just the most significant of what some would say was the final battle in the courts that had been fought by African American parents since 1849, which started with Roberts v. City of Boston, Massachusetts. It is also important to note that Kansas was the site of eleven such cases spanning from 1881 to 1949.
The case was named after Oliver Brown one of 200 plaintiffs. The Brown case was initiated and organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) leadership who recruited African American parents in Topeka, Kansas for a class action suit against the local school board. The Supreme Court combined five cases under the heading of Brown v. Board of Education: Delaware, Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. The ultimate goal sought by the NAACP was to end the practice of “separate but equal” throughout every segment of society, including public transportation, dining facilities, public schools and all forms of public accommodations.
The Brown Supreme Court ruling determined racial segregation in public education was unconstitutional in Brown I, the first opinion. The court’s implementation mandate of “with all deliberate speed” in 1955 is known as Brown II. In 1979, twenty five years later, there was a Brown III because Topeka was not living up to the earlier Supreme Court ruling, which resulted in Topeka Public Schools building three magnet schools to comply with the court’s findings. As had been the case since Homer Plessy, the subject in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that a Louisiana law mandating separate but equal accommodations for blacks and whites on intrastate railroads was constitutional. This decision provided the legal foundation to justify many other actions by state and local governments to socially separate blacks and whites.
Now that I have provided some history related to the case let me add my commentary. It has been said that as sure as things change they remain the same. First, it took 60 year to overturn Plessy with Brown and it took “with all deliberate speed” 13 years for integration to begin fully. During this period of time from 1954 to 1967 Governors blocked school entrances and actually closed schools rather than comply with the law of the land. I am not going to touch on the violence that caused President’s to send the US Army and National Guard troops to schools in order to protect the safety of those the ruling was intended benefit as a result of the Brown decision.
Since then and over time many scams have been devised to disenfranchise minorities and African Americans in particular – need I only remind you of “No Child Left Behind”. This brings us to where we are today. Schools are equally as segregated, poorly funded, dilapidated facilities, and a police presence to save, often times, the kids from themselves. The dropout rate averages 2 to 1. These are just a few issues and by any measure of academic standards or common sense – is a failure.
Let’s make sure we understand that public education was not created to develop minds rather it was intended to simply teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. It was created to maintain a permanent underclass. Now maybe the word “class” is the operative word in all of this – the haves have and the have not’s will have not. So as sure as things change they remain the same. That is why it is imperative for us to celebrate this milestone and continue to the struggle as the ghosts of so many who died for the principle that “education is the single most important ingredient necessary to neutralize those forces that breed poverty and despair”.