Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Contemplating Brown: Conversations across Generations

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Contemplating Brown: Conversations across Generations

Article excerpt

N.C. symposium draws over 400 to discuss landmark ruling


When noted historian Dr. John Hope Franklin looks back at the 50 years since the Brown v. Board of Education decision, he says he thinks of the heroism of the plaintiff parents along with their attorneys. Thurgood Marshall, counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, asked Franklin to help the lawyers with historical research.

Franklin, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University, said he was "overwhelmed with joy" when he heard the news of the Supreme Court's unanimous decision. "But I didn't know it was going to be rejected by the larger community, that people would spit in the face of justice," he said. "Where were the programs for desegregation? They moved at a deliberate speed or they didn't move at all."

Franklin shared his thoughts on Brown during a symposium commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision. The event titled "Conversations Across Generations" drew approximately 450 educators, community and political leaders, and students to Hillside High School in Durham, N.C. Keynote speakers included Franklin; Elaine R. Jones, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; and Dr. julius Chambers, former chancellor of North Carolina Central University and former director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Franklin also shared some personal history with the symposium audience, including a car trip he took from the University of Wisconsin to Cornell University with his wife in 1953. He stopped at several motels, only to be told that the motel was full despite few cars in the parking lot. One desk clerk didn't mince words, telling Franklin that she regretted that the motel did not take Negroes. The Franklins drove on to Canada, where they were able to get lodging.

"I remember thinking, what kind of country do I live in?" he said.

Throughout the one-day event, conversation sessions examined Brown's effects today on the court system, politics, health care, business, community activism and religion. Participants viewed videos and exhibits that depicted events before and after the 1954 decision.

The conference was a collaborative event between North Carolina Central University, Duke University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

During a discussion titled "Brown and the American Dream," Steve Allred, executive associate provost at UNC-CH, recalled the experiences of the university's first Black undergraduates, who enrolled in the fall of 1955. …

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