The Paradox of the Promised Unfulfilled: Brown V. Board of Education and the Continued Pursuit of Excellence in Education

By Green, Paul | The Journal of Negro Education, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

The Paradox of the Promised Unfulfilled: Brown V. Board of Education and the Continued Pursuit of Excellence in Education


Green, Paul, The Journal of Negro Education


This article illuminates the educational and social paradox created by the U.S. Supreme Court in striking down the legal doctrine of "separate but equal." Based upon its interpretation of the social science evidence of damage imagery, the Court viewed the psychological harms of segregation as problems faced exclusively by African American students and their communities. White communities and students, on the other hand, were considered healthy and unscathed by the affects of racial segregation. With this in mind, this article discusses how the implementation of racial balance remedies by White municipal, civic, and educational leaders resulted in the loss of African American public school teachers and concomitant influences on the communities in which they resided. This article concludes with a discussion of the research surrounding the importance of teachers of color in serving increasingly diversified communities and students of color in America's public schools.

What was unanticipated by the US Supreme Court in the two Brown v. Board of Education ofTopeka cases was the pervasive and irreversible damage that might be inflicted on poor Black children reared in stable yet ecologically constructed social worlds. (Wilkinson, 1996, p. 28)

Blacks have a longstanding tradition of excellence in education; for more than a century, teaching has been one of the most highly respected occupations in the Black community. Had it not been for the diligent efforts of the first, second, and third generations of Black teachers who taught in segregated schools, yet inspired their students, the present generation of Black physicians, lawyers, engineers and other professionals may not have chosen those careers. Indeed the Black community recognizes and values the significant contribution these teachers have made to progress. (Dilworth, 1989, p. 54)

Underlying the Brown v. Board of Education ofTopeka, Kansas (Brown I) decision in 1954 was an implicit assumption that the desegregation of public schools would invariably better life opportunities for African American communities, neighborhoods, and schools. The legal mandate in Brown 1 to desegregate, however, differed from communities in the North, Midwest and the South. Yet, while local conditions created different circumstances, each community came to terms with desegregation along similar practices of organized resistance (Balkin, 2001; Martin, 1998; Walker, 1996; Wilson, 1995).

Organized resistance to public school desegregation took varied forms. One was to remove White children from public schools. In most states, especially the South, this was accomplished through the establishment of private schools for Whites using public monies. In Northern and Midwestern urban areas, Whites increased their movement to more affluent suburbs further segregating poorly resourced neighborhood schools and their students (Pollard & Ajirotutu, 2000; Wilson & Segall, 2001).

Most importantly, resistance to school desegregation resulted in the removal of Black teachers and administrators from predominately Black public schools and their communities. Desegregation also meant that African American teachers and administrators lost significant positions of authority to White teachers and administrators who maintained control over the curriculum as well as the social and cultural milieu of the educational process in America's public schools.

Fifty years after the Court's decision in Brown I, students continue to matriculate through elementary, middle, and secondary schools throughout the United States rarely meeting or working with an African American, Latino, Asian or American Indian teacher. According to the Applied Research Center's ERASE (Expose Racism and Advance Educational Excellence) Initiative, this trend has particularly affected urban areas where poverty and racial isolation remain concentrated within inner-city neighborhood schools (Gordon, Piana, & Keleher, 2000). …

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