Brown v. Board anniversary occasion for celebration and anxiety


Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision that changed America, is 60 years old this Saturday. It’s a time both to applaud the progress this country has made and to worry about the inequities in education that still persist.

Brown v. Board of Education was the culmination of 30 years of legal struggle by civil rights lawyers mostly from Howard University and the NAACP, including Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houston.

The specific goal was equal education for black children in the United States. The larger goal was to eventually dismantle America’s depraved legal caste system that kept most blacks oppressed as second-class citizens.

“Jim Crow” education was just part of a legal system that kept black people down and maintained white privilege. Restrooms, water fountains, public transportation, cemeteries and hospitals were all governed by this system of white supremacy. Full voting rights and access to various occupations were also denied to blacks.

Oliver Leon Brown, the father of 8-year-old Linda Brown, brought the famous case. Linda had to walk a mile in Topeka, Kan., through a dangerous rail yard just to attend an obviously inferior elementary school for black children. Mr. Brown just wanted his daughter to receive a good education and attend a well-funded and well-maintained school like the ones white children attended.

The U.S. Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, ruled in Oliver Brown’s favor and delivered the historic unanimous opinion. The separate but equal doctrine “has no place” in “the field of public education,” Warren wrote, because “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Fierce resistance to school desegregation began in public school systems around the country. Southern states declared that racial segregation would be maintained in schools and in all other aspects of Southern life. And many whites, in the North and the South, clung to their privilege.

But the decision helped spark a people’s movement for fundamental change in America and not just in education. This movement, along with the court’s decision, ended Jim Crow once and for all.

Blatant discrimination had to go, and many social attitudes changed for the better. Today, blacks are able to live where they wish, marry whom they love, whether black or not, and rise in every profession.

Yet on the very issue that Brown discussed — public education — the gains have largely not materialized.

When Brown was decided, 77 percent of blacks attended a school that had a majority of students of color. Today, 74 percent of blacks attend such a school.

Most important, these black children, on average, still attend inferior, underfunded schools.

The U.S. Department of Education also reports “a pattern of punitive policies and educational neglect that disproportionately hurt black, Latino and Native American students in public schools.” For decent education to elude so many black children 60 years after this legendary case is profoundly disturbing. On this 60th anniversary of the Brown decision, we must vow to solve this problem once and for all.

Brian Gilmore is a writer for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.

© 2014, Brian Gilmore

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Read more From Our Inbox stories from the Miami Herald

  • Too much paranoia about kids alone in parks

    A couple of weeks ago, the Debra Harrell story made national headlines. Harrell was arrested in North Augusta, S.C., and charged with a felony for letting her 9-year-old daughter play at a park while Harrell worked a shift at a local McDonald’s. Now, it has happened again, in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where a mother was charged with child neglect after letting her son go to a park by himself.

  • Our blind spot about guns

    If we had the same auto-fatality rate today that we had in 1921, by my calculations we would have 715,000 Americans dying annually in vehicle accidents.

  • ’Too big to fail’ equals ‘too eager to borrow’

    Four years ago this month, President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Act into law, promising that the 848-page financial law would “put a stop to taxpayer bailouts once and for all,” he said. But recently, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren told a Detroit crowd that “the biggest banks are even bigger than they were when they got too big to fail in 2008.”

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category