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50 Years Since Little Rock: Still More Left to Overcome

Caroline Fredrickson,
Washington Legislative Office
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September 25, 2007

Fifty years ago, the U.S. government took action to make sure school integration was a reality, not just an ideal.

Fifty years ago, “separate but equal” was one step closer to coming to an end.

Fifty years ago, the Brown v. Board of Education decision to integrate schools was enforced in a high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, and the South took one step forward toward respecting civil rights.

This week, Representative John Conyers introduced a resolution recognizing the 50th anniversary of the 1957 enforcement of Brown v. the Board of Education in Little Rock, Arkansas. Federal marshals ordered the Little Rock school district to allow nine students, known as the Little Rock Nine, to attend an all-white public high school. This Thursday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will hold a hearing “Pursuing Brown‘s Promise: Ensuring Equal Opportunity in Public Education,” coinciding with the week of the Little Rock anniversary.

But 50 years after Little Rock, Brown‘s promise of inclusive and integrated schools for our children has not been achieved. Schools are more segregated today than they were in 1970. Even school districts that are voluntarily fighting segregation have faced resistance in the courts, including two school districts that lost their case in the Supreme Court.

Yes, we have moved forward. But we have taken many steps back.

Even the newspaper stories haven’t changed very much. High school divided by racial tensions. White students hang nooses from trees. Segregation throws Southern town into the national spotlight. Is it 1957 or 2007? The Little Rock Nine or the Jena Six? Brown doesn’t seem so far off.

Last week, Americans across the country mobilized against the treatment of the Jena Six, a group of six black students who received much harsher penalties than their white classmates in the midst of racially motivated fighting throughout their high school.

The Congressional Black Caucus is taking up the Jena Six this week in a Braintrust meeting featuring Tory Pegram, the field director of the ACLU of Louisiana, who has been organizing on behalf of the Jena Six, and the parent of one of the Jena Six students.

The American Civil Liberties Union will also hold a news briefing this week with Pegram and Jena Six family members to talk about racism in America.

The Jena Six is just one example of civil rights wrongs not yet righted in America.

Today’s anniversary is a good time to take stock of our accomplishments since the Civil Rights Movement. But it’s an even better opportunity to take stock of how much work we still have left to do.

You can read more about the ACLU’s work to end racial injustice in the United States at

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