Why should people celebrate the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education?

04/23/2014 6:04 PM

04/23/2014 6:04 PM

Invitations have gone out to events commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision ending legal segregation in public schools.

First Lady Michelle Obama will even give the commencement address on May 17 for Topeka's high schools, marking the landmark 1954 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education high court ruling.

But to be honest, what will people really be celebrating?

The Supreme Court ruling unlocked the doors that U.S. laws since 1896 kept firmly bolted, legalizing segregation. Inspired, the Civil Rights Movement then pushed to open up America, enabling blacks, Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans to integrate schools, businesses and communities.

President Lyndon Johnson followed acts of Congress, signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ensuring that more change would take place enabling people of color to enjoy constitutional freedoms long kept from them. But for more than 40 years, the civil rights gains have slowly been reversed, and recent Supreme Court rulings have even put affirmative action on the chopping block.

And that turn-back trend appears to be the way American wants it in the 21st century. An Economic Policy Institute report this month notes that “Brown was unsuccessful in its purported mission — to undo the school segregation that persists as a central feature of American public education today.

“Initial school integration gains following Brown

stalled, and black children are more racially and socioeconomically isolated today than at any time since data have been available (1970).”

That information should shock the consciousness of people in the United States. But it won’t. Segregation has always created a comfortable, sense of privilege for the majority at the expense of the minorities.

The institute report notes that black schools were inferior before the 1954 ruling. “Inequalities still exist in some places, although they are much smaller. But resource equality itself is insufficient; disadvantaged students require much greater resources than middle-class white students to prepare for success in school.”

Kansas City Public Schools and urban districts nationwide are chained to the long legacy of segregation in the United States and its accompanying problems. But none of that came up this week at a packed KCPT-TV, Channel 19 forum at the Plaza Library on improving Kansas City schools. The majority-minority schools are now more segregated than ever with a dehumanizing poverty and white flight creating ongoing problems.

The institute report says: “Expensive but necessary resources include high-quality early childhood programs, from birth to school entry; high-quality after-school and summer programs; full-service school health clinics; more skilled teachers; and smaller classes.”

The question becomes will the state and this community have the stomach to fund the needed changes to provide black and Latino students with an equal education promised in the 1954 Supreme Court ruling.

Don’t hold your breath. The institute reports notes: “Even with these added resources, students can rarely be successful in racially and economically isolated schools where remediation and discipline supplant regular instruction, excessive student mobility disrupts learning, involvement of more-educated parents is absent, and students lack adult and peer models of educational success.

“Schools remain segregated today because neighborhoods in which they are located are segregated. Raising achievement of low-income black children requires residential integration, from which school integration can follow. Education policy is housing policy.

“Federal requirements that communities must pursue residential integration have been unenforced, and federal programs to subsidize movement of low-income families to middle-class communities have been weak and ineffective.

“Correcting these policy shortcomings is essential if the promise of

Brown

is to be fulfilled.”

So on May 17, the 60th anniversary of the Brown decision, folks will gather, listen to music, lofty speeches and celebrate the accomplishments of people more than two generations ago. People will feel that they have done their part toward creating a better, more integrated America.

After all the crowds will be integrated. But when it’s all done, people will go back to where they live and the way things have always been — in these segregated United States.

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