Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Fifty Years after Brown: The Benefits and Tradeoffs for African American Educators and Students

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Fifty Years after Brown: The Benefits and Tradeoffs for African American Educators and Students

Article excerpt

This article examines the benefits and tradeoffs for African American professional educators and students that resulted from the profound Brown v. Board of Education decision. It addresses the impact of the Brown decision immediately after it was rendered for African American educators and students and the legacy of Brown for both of these groups during the previous 50th years. The article also presents the findings from a study of 36 current and recently retired African American high school principals in North Carolina and Alabama to determine their perceptions of the legacy of the Brown decision for both African American educators and high school students. Additionally, the article presents the views of a small sample of these principals who were interviewed regarding the degree to which African American high school students are currently involved in student leadership roles and school activities. Results of the study indicated that the vast majority of the respondents believed that Brown had benefited both African American educators and students; however, they indicated that it had some unintended consequences such as a precipitous drop in the number of African American teachers to serve as role models, competent professionals, and authority figures for students-both Black and White. Furthermore, they perceive that, particularly in integrated high schools where White students are in the majority, the curriculum usually does not adequately address the history, contributions, culture, and experiences of African Americans. Moreover, the principals perceive that African American students in fully integrated schools, with few exceptions, are underrepresented in school leadership roles and are often reluctant to run for elective leadership positions because they usually do not believe they can win.

INTRODUCTION

On May 17, 1954, at 12:52 p.m., the United States Supreme Court rendered its momentous decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954). The fundamental public policy that the court unanimously ruled upon was straightforward: segregated schools (established and maintained by state action) were inherently unequal. The court clearly said, through its ruling, that separate but equal was, in fact, a contradiction in terms-official state sanctioned segregation was a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which forbids any state from making or enforcing any laws which deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Prior to the Supreme Court's ruling, dual and segregated school systems had been established and maintained for African American and White students. These schools systems were primarily in the southern states where Jim Crow laws had prevailed after reconstruction. Ironically, the rationale for establishing and maintaining de jure segregated schools had been also formalized by the United States Supreme Court in another momentous decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, in 1896, which legitimized the principle of "separate but equal" (1896). The case evolved from a suit filed by Homer Plessy, a Black man who had filed suit after he had initially been fined for sitting in the White section of a railroad car in Louisiana. His case questioned the constitutionality of an act of the General Assembly of the State of Louisiana, passed in 1890, providing for separate railway carriages for the White and colored races. Plessy contested the decision all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which upheld the state's separate but equal doctrine.

In the Plessy decision, the Supreme Court gave racial inequality and segregation an air of legitimacy for over a half century. Moreover, it served to institutionalize racial segregation and social norms, particularly in me South, in both public and private arenas. Not only did the decision condone and maintain racially separate railroad cars and other modes of public transportation, it virtually assured segregation in schools and school activities, courthouses, waiting rooms, public beaches, swimming pools, restaurants, bathrooms and drinking fountains. …

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