Brown Anniversary a Chance to Renew Our Commitment to Equality

Each landmark anniversary of the historic Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education invites us to answer two questions. The first involves a retrospective focus on Brown in the context of the decisions that came before it and the social changes that it engendered. This question seeks to find out how important Brown really was. The second question requires taking stock of where we are now and how far we have come since 1954 in our pursuit of racial justice. This week marked the 55th anniversary of the first Brown decision. Coming as it does in a year that witnessed the inauguration of the first African-American president, those questions seem even more important. At the same time, the answers become more complicated and nuanced.

Brown was decided at a time when most American schools were segregated as a result of explicit legal requirements, or by a series of policies and practices — including rampant housing segregation — that imposed a virtual system of apartheid upon American society. Segregation in education was just one manifestation of that system. Restrictions based on race, color and ethnicity created barriers to housing, patronizing restaurants and other public accommodations, voting and even marriage. By confronting and rejecting the dishonesty and hypocrisy in the doctrine of "separate but equal" in the area of public education, the decision became a keystone in the civil rights movement of the succeeding decades, which saw court decisions and legislation aimed at addressing discrimination in its many forms. Brown was instrumental in initiating many of the civil rights advances that occurred in its wake. It is also true that but for it and measures like the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act and the scores of cases interpreting the 14th Amendment, the conditions that lead to the election of an African-American president could not have occurred.

But what, exactly, does Barack Obama's election say about how much we've progressed since Brown? Having an African-American in the nation's highest office suggests we have travelled an enormous distance. A careful look at the state of race in the United States, however, suggests we still have a long way to go to achieve the level of equality envisioned by Brown. Sadly, many of the concerns raised during previous Brown anniversaries — about injustices like racial profiling and the absence of equal access to quality education, employment and housing — are still too much with us.

The passage of additional time only underscores the frustration. Despite the fact that hundreds of Brown-era cases are still on the dockets of courts throughout the country, the level of segregation has been steadily increasing to levels approaching pre-Brown levels. Nor is this the only way in which things have worsened. The sad fact is that people of color today represent a greater percentage of incarcerated Americans then they did during the Jim Crow era. And during a time of economic upheaval, as the nation fearfully watches national unemployment figures approach 10 percent of the work force, the reality is that the unemployment rate among African-Americans has hovered close to that level since 2007, when 8.6 percent of African-Americans were unemployed compared to 4.8 percent of the general population. Absent significant, race-conscious recovery efforts, the Kirwan Institute argues, the African-American unemployment rate will climb to 18.2 percent by 2010.

One aspect of the Brown decision has proven to be remarkably prescient: by holding that segregation harmed black children by stigmatizing them in a way unlikely ever to be undone, the Court made a powerful and poignant statement about the extent of the injury caused by segregation and discrimination, and the difficulty of erasing that effect. Of course, the Court was speaking about inequality's effects on a particular generation of school children. But our experiences since 1954 show that their words apply as fittingly to the long-lasting effects of discrimination and inequality on our society as a whole. In many ways, parts of that stigma have been addressed. And so while it might be overly pessimistic to believe that the stigmatization of race is unlikely ever to be undone completely, it is clear that the struggle will indeed be a long one. We owe it to our nation and to the people who fought for the ideals of Brown to regard this 55th anniversary not as a day to remember what happened in the long past, but rather as an occasion to renew our vows to work for justice and equality.

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In my life I have seen Intergration. I attended a Catholic grammer school (parents could afford it then $2.50 a month) Then a public high school. I have seen African-Americans be given priority in jobs, education, grants, housing and being able to have groups consisting of only African-Americans without other races being allowed to participate. That would not be allowed if it was a white group.

I was even passed over for a promotion by an African-American to make the staff secretarial group look good. Then pulled into an office to be told that she was not promoted because she was black. Then being told that they would appreciate it if I did not cause any trouble. Which I had no intention of doing because I would not have won since the ACLU is only interested in people of color.

Even all that has happened in my personal life I always believed that some day there would be a black president. I wonder why you did not? I do still have faith in people and our way of life.

As for the jail problem, maybe they are there because they did something wrong. Are we suppose to impose quotas on people that commit crimes? Sometimes I think that the ACLU just looks to stir up trouble that sometimes does not even exist.

Maybe it is time for people in general to start working towards their goals and not suing to be given their goals. Dr. King said that it is time for people to be judged by their character and not by the color of their skin.

Perhaps all races should reflect on that comment.


This is a sad state of affairs. Unfortunately, it was bound to happen because while the Brown decision was an absolute must and a step in the right direction toward racial justice, it did not address the "de facto" segregation of this country at large. In order to truly begin a path toward full equality, we need to change the attitudes of the people in this country. Race is still a key determining factor in everything from relationships to jobs to house locations. If this continues, it will only get worse as our society becomes more fractured and the majority of the white populace is further and further removed from the needs and greivances of minorities in this country that need bold corrective action after so many years of abuse and injustice.


It's sad that on this anniversary that Obama still supports so called seperate but equal treatment for Gays when it comes to marriage.


people are so dumb.


In my life time I have seen people refused service, beaten, hung, and mistreated because of the color of their skin. I've listened to argument after argument about minorities being given jobs because of this or that.

The stupidity of the institutions that incorrectly enacted something that was basically designed to even the playing field of life, should be blamed...not the people caught up in that nonsense.

I grow weary of these stories wherein someone claims they were passed over because of this or that Black person. Not that it's right but try multiplying that story hundreds of times and imagine what African-Americans must feel.

Furthermore try telling the story from the perspective of anyone who gets a raise or a position based on favoritism or 'good ole boy' preferential treatment instead of hard work. Everyone has been through that.

Not to mention but maybe some who use these excuses actually bite the big one when it comes to working as an employee.

Someone said it best...people are so dumb.


Kafka, I do understand what you are talking about. We can only talk about our own experiences at least I do. I have always treated people the way I would want to be treated.

I don't consider my experiences as an excuse. I also cannot control the world and what people think. I am only responsible for myself and they way I run my life.

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