Three lawyers, Thurgood Marshall (center), chief counsel for the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund and lead attorney on the Briggs case, with George E. C. Hayes (left) and James M. Nabrit(right), attorneys for the Bolling case, are shown standing on the steps of the Supreme Court congratulating each other after the Court’s decision declaring segregation unconstitutional.
Sixty years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, education inequalities still exist. What did we really achieve through integration and how do we advance our communities to be prepared for the next 60 years?
In 1954, Black people, and in essence all people, crossed a huge barrier in education. As decided in the case of “Brown v. The Board of Education,” schools were no longer allowed to be segregated, the segregation of public schools was proven to violate the equal protection provided within the Fourteenth Amendment, and nullified the “separate but equal” policy. The case was a landmark decision, having made its way to the United States Supreme Court with a unanimous decision from all justices, overturning a ruling from 1896 in the case of “Plessy v. Ferguson” which said that separate accommodations were constitutional. Yet, 60 years later, we still see schools that are still very much unequal and very clearly separated.
Education has always been a doorway to opportunity, equality and better life outcomes. It’s not the panacea to the world’s problems, but it is a fundamental component to leveling the playing field. And despite knowing this, the tactics of how to build the doorway so that it opens for everyone has been a challenge that has caused America’s position as a world leader in education to fall with no real solution in sight. Our inability to decide on the best way to continue to educate our children could potentially contribute to our nation falling behind others when it comes to innovation, technology, math and science.
We celebrate the decision in Brown as a critical step in ending the race-based policies that created a second class of citizenry for Blacks in this country. Even though there are still challenges relating to education, Brown created many opportunities and the challenges that we face in education aren’t necessarily related to the Brown decision. The segregation now seen in schools is a result of other policies that aren’t explicitly racist, but have the same impact, are inherently related and cyclical.
Students now generally attend schools where they live. In too many cases, people of color live in areas that are depressed and under-resourced and our schools are reflective of that. If you and your family live in an upper or middle-class neighborhood, your schools will have the resources that they need to further educational opportunity, but if you live in a working-class or impoverished community, your school is likely to have books that are 20 years old and school buildings that aren’t the best learning environments. Families who live in poverty find it much harder to use education as a portal to a better life because their schools are failing them. They can’t find quality jobs and when they start their own family, they are living in the same situation
New laws are created every day that stifle the ability of families to move up and out of under-resourced communities. A new bill recently passed out of the Senate Banking Committee that will eliminate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but also jeopardize affordable housing for so many families who truly want to achieve the American Dream. If we examine unemployment, we see that people of color often go longer periods of time going without a job. While Brown v. Board of Education and other laws like it may have been able to outlaw racist policies, we know that the law did not eliminate racism and there is still much work to do to achieve equality.
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