Today — May 17 -- marks the 65th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which desegregated America’s public schools and set the stage for racial integration in the U.S.
“As we struggle to combat today's inequality in education, voting and the criminal justice system, reaffirming our core commitment to Brown is imperative.”
Brown v. Board of Education is named for plaintiff Oliver Brown, an African-American parent. He filed a class-action suit in 1951 against the Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas, after his daughter, Linda, was denied admittance to local elementary schools that had only white students.
The Brown case was a compilation of several cases, conceived by lawyers at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF). Thurgood Marshall was its first Director-Counsel and successfully argued the famous ruling, which was unanimously decided by the nation’s highest court in 1954; later, in 1967, Marshall would become the Supreme Court’s first African-American Justice.
Civil rights leaders, lawmakers and advocates are celebrating the landmark legal decision with events all week nationwide, but also warning of threats to its doctrine of equal justice for all.
A rally was held Thursday on Capitol Hill inspired by the “Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom,” back in 1957. That event drew civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who delivered his historic “Give Us the Ballot” address.
They joined a host of advocacy organizations and leaders who included: the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, National Urban League, National Action Network, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Women’s Law Center, the National Education Association. and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, among others.
Several speakers highlighted the need to push for equality in all aspects of American life, including the fight to fully restore the Voting Rights Act.
“We will not allow Brown to become minimized or marginalized. Brown did not just end legalized segregation in education, it began the end of legal apartheid in this country,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel at LDF.
“Brown opened the door for women, the poor, members of the LGBTQ community to follow the road map created by [lawyers] Thurgood Marshall, Robert Carter, Jack Greenberg and Constance Baker Motley – to open up American democracy and to ensure full, true, and meaningful citizenship for those who were marginalized. Brown gave America its very identity,” she added.
Since President Donald Trump’s inauguration in 2017, more than 100 conservative judges have been confirmed to courts nationwide, including the Supreme Court.
The judges include Wendy Vitter, who was recently confirmed to the Eastern District of Louisiana, the same court which ordered the admission of Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to integrate an all-white elementary school in the South.
During her Senate judicial process she declined to say whether Brown v. Board was correctly decided. So did the Trump Administration’s nominee for deputy attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen.
Groups such as the NAACP blasted their actions.
So did U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) in remarks on the Senate floor this week marking the Brown decision, which he said righted a “profound moral wrong tearing at the soul of this country: racial segregation in our nation’s schools.”
“65 years on, it is our duty as Americans to continue to fight for equality and justice in America,” said Booker, who is Democratic contender for president. “We owe this not just to ourselves, but we who benefit from the blessings of this democracy sewn by the hands of our ancestors. We who partake of that fruit from their labors. We must recognize those heroes and the generations who advocated, marched, and insisted that this nation made good on the promise of equal justice under the law.”
Others in Congress noted the impact of the Brown ruling, too, this week.
On Thursday, the House Education and Labor Committee advanced two bills (to be voted on by the full chamber) designed to promote school diversity and protect students' civil rights.
The Strength in Diversity Act of 2019 would provide resources to help local communities develop, implement, and evaluate strategies to address the effects of racial isolation or concentrated poverty by increasing racial and socioeconomic diversity in public schools.
The Equity and Inclusion Enforcement Act would restore an individual’s right to challenge discriminatory public school policies, rather than waiting for the Department of Education to take action. This bill empowers students, parents, and communities to address – through robust enforcement – racial inequities in public education.
Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) said of the legislation: “The legacy of systemic inequality and racial segregation continues to deny millions of children the opportunity to reach their full potential."
He added: "Instead of confronting this injustice, the federal government has continually retreated from its role in promoting school diversity, erasing decades of progress towards educational equity. These two bills will help reverse that trend. Sixty-five years after the landmark decision in Brown v. Board, we must commit to finally delivering on its promise.”
(Photo: NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.)