Academic journal article Journal of Appellate Practice and Process

Voices of the Brown Generation: Description of a Project

Academic journal article Journal of Appellate Practice and Process

Voices of the Brown Generation: Description of a Project

Article excerpt

I am one of the reasons for the Brown litigation. In 1954, I was enrolled in the fourth grade in the Berkeley County Training School in Moncks Corner, South Carolina. The Berkeley County Training School was the public school that educated all of the Negro children, grades one through twelve, who resided in that county.

I remember quite clearly the day that the Brown decision was handed down. (1) I recall the image of my father, the school principal, ringing a hand bell while standing on a little hill that was just outside of his office. He rang that bell daily to signal the beginning of the day's classes and the end of recess. We had been outside enjoying recess in the late spring sunshine and assumed that he was signaling its end. We quickly noticed that this was not his intent--he was beckoning us to him. We ran to him. He announced with great excitement that the Supreme Court of the United States had just held that segregated schools were unconstitutional. He explained to us that there were no longer to be separate schools for white and colored children. The decision was, of course, Brown v. Board of Education. (2) His excitement was infectious and so we children all became excited. We ran around and generally acted out that excitement. We did not, of course, understand all of the ramifications of the decision. We could not know that widespread resistance to the appropriate implementation of the decision would ultimately lead to the firing of beloved teachers, the closing of facilities so much a part of life in black communities, and the fragmentation of the support and loss of protection that those communities provided to its young. On that day, we celebrated the decision.

I don't know what my father ultimately came to think about that decision. I can tell you that as desegregation was finally implemented in the South, like so many other black administrators and teachers, he was denied the opportunity to pursue the career for which he had prepared and that he loved. (3) He was a talented teacher and administrator and was dedicated to and loved his students. In his later years, his work afforded him only tangential contact with everyday school life. I know that he deeply missed that contact.

My mother was not one of the hundreds of black administrators and teachers fired during that period. (4) In fact, she spent her entire professional life in the public schools of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, first as a teacher and in her later years as a guidance counselor. However, she, too, experienced unanticipated and unwarranted pain.

The last years (1968-1989) of her long career as a teacher (1943-1944, 1951-1989) were spent in service in the public schools of Atlanta, Georgia. In one conversation with her about this project (more on the project in just a moment), I asked her what it was like initially to be assigned to teach in a formerly all-white school in Atlanta, Georgia. (She received this assignment for the 1969-70 academic year.) She described to me one early experience. She and one of her white colleagues (who in time became a very close friend) were standing in one of the school windows early in the school day. As they stood there, they watched school buses arrive, load white children and depart to take the children to other area schools that remained overwhelmingly white. I did not then inquire into the personal impact of that unfolding scene. Like my father, my mother was and remains a talented person of tremendous decency and integrity. I can only imagine the pain of watching those children depart fully aware that she was one of the reasons for that departure.

I will explore that point with her and share more of my story in the book that will be a product of the project that my friend and University of Virginia colleague Professor Richard Bonnie and I are jointly undertaking. The book will be entitled Voices of the Brown Generation: Memories and Reflections of Law Professors. …

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