Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Wisdom, Hindsight Render Brown's Goals 'Incomplete'

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Wisdom, Hindsight Render Brown's Goals 'Incomplete'

Article excerpt

Those of us who remember what it was like before and after the Brown v. Board of Education decision know that we underwent a process of change. We also know that we were profoundly affected by that change, even though we may not have realized it at the time. Brown made a difference, true enough, but it also set in motion an agenda that is not yet finished.

When I entered the Topeka public school system as a third grader, the elementary schools were strictly segregated. Although I was not aware of it at the time, nearly all of us in the White elementary schools attended a neighborhood school within easy walking distance. I lived less than two blocks from Gage Park Elementary School and often went home for lunch.

Even at that young age, I brought a host of expectations with me; I'd been around. I had already lived in Atlanta, where I first learned to read. Among those first visual impressions were the "colored only" and "White only" signs wherever one looked. Then our family spent a couple of years on a California military base where my father's assigned duty was as chaplain for an all-Black unit, another experience which only heightened the perception that this was the way the world was supposed to be arranged.

In Topeka, only the elementary schools were segregated; the junior high and high schools were not. So it came as no surprise that when students who had previously been in ail-White or all-Black schools came together in seventh grade, we did so with a certain level of discomfort.

Sharing classroom space with each other took some getting used to. A period of settling out, testing and social re-organization took place. An occasional hostile act was carried out, and a wariness or suspicion of others was apparent on both sides.

When the Brown decision was handed down in 1954, we were already in high school with four years of experience in integrated education behind us. Our younger brothers and sisters were the ones more directly affected and were busy making their own transitions in the suddenly integrated elementary schools. As children will, they reflected the attitudes of their parents. One could hear discussions over whether this was the right thing to do; would it work? Many were uncertain. Some, my parents for example, communicated a quiet, sure acceptance of integration as not only the law but the correct choice. Others proclaimed that the Black elementary schools were just the natural outgrowth of the city's housing patterns.

Civic and community pride, however, won out in the end. Topeka was going to be like some other cities; it would not suffer the embarrassment of negative national press coverage; it would not force the president to send in federal troops to enforce the law.

By the end of our high school years, though, we optimistically thought "we had it made" in terms of acceptance and inclusion. Our Hispanic classmate sang the male lead in the operetta, the biggest annual production in the music department. A Black couple was one of five pairs nominated for king and queen of the all-school party (Topeka High's version of the senior prom). One Black girl was on the homecoming court; another was selected to be on the basketball queen of courts panel. Clubs, teams and all extra-curricular activities were inclusive; we got along and encouraged each other. We didn't really notice that the school board, school administration and faculty were all White. …

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