Capitol Report – Brown at 60
By State Representative, Leon D. Young
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court stepped out of the proverbial shadows and handed down its unanimous, historic finding that ended the “separate but equal” doctrine for public schools.
In most circles, Brown was perceived as the case of the century and, clearly, the greatest victory for Black people since the Emancipation Proclamation (1863).
The Brown decision allegedly “level the playing field” in terms of providing equal access to public education.
But, as we now know, the ruling was inherently flawed given the legal proviso that allowed segregated schools to desegregate “with all deliberate speed.”
With no set timetable, desegregation would proceed at a snail’s pace, with numerous legal battles to ensue and mass demonstrations in both northern and southern states.
With that being said, the importance of the Brown decision is beyond question. Moreover, this ruling has impacted our society for the better in a myriad ways.
The Supreme Court said in Brown that “education is the foundation of good citizenship.”
The Court went on to assert that “it’s impossible to imagine an American child having success with a proper education.” If that was true in 1954, it’s certainly the case in 2014.
Sadly, sixty years after the historic decision, public education is reminiscent of the pre-Brown days.
Nearly half of the nation’s students are low income; forty-four percent are students of color, and both populations are concentrated in segregated schools.
According to recent federal data, 80 percent of Hispanic students and 74 percent of Black students are in schools where the majority of students are not white.
At the same time, 43 percent of Hispanic students and 38 percent of Black students attend “intensely segregated schools” where white students comprise 10 percent or less than the student body.
The argument can be made that the Brown decision marks the beginning of the end of legal apartheid in America and the first instance in which the Supreme Court articulated the full and equal citizenship of African Americans.
This ruling, coupled with the Montgomery (Bus) Boycott, provided a great deal of the initial impetus for the Civil Rights Movement, which culminated in the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and Voters Rights Act in 1965.
America is far from being an all-inclusive, colorblind society.
And, unfortunately, the true promise of the Brown decision is yet to be realized.
Nevertheless, the historic significance of this landmark decision, which literally changed the fabric of American life, must always be recognized and celebrated.