Brown V Board of Education at 50: Where Are We Now?

By Jones, Janine Hancock; Hancock, Charles R. | Negro Educational Review, January 2005 | Go to article overview

Brown V Board of Education at 50: Where Are We Now?


Jones, Janine Hancock, Hancock, Charles R., Negro Educational Review


On May 17, 2004, our nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of a landmark decision, Brown versus the Board of Education of Topeka Kansas. This U.S. Supreme Court decision was an impressive unanimous vote . In the words of the Court,

"We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal...It is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education..." Brown v Board of Education (1954), 347 U.S. 483

This landmark decision was celebrated in 2004 throughout the country, and it is therefore appropriate that it also be written about in scholarly outlets such as this one. The primary goal of this article is to build the case that Brown was and remains an important watershed moment in U.S. history, especially for those whose job it is to educate the next generations of collegiate Americans in small private institutions of higher learning and large public ones alike. Documentation for this article comes from the work of many researchers such as Williams (1988), Betances (1994), Delpit (1995), Suarez-Orozco (1995), Nieto (1996), Tatum (1997), Jacobs (1998), andTushnet (2001). It is also based on public legal documents from the U.S. courts and other sources.

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the "separate but equal" doctrine of Plessy v Ferguson that the Court had rendered in 1896. Unfortunately, even after the landmark decision, the Brown I decision needed to be reinforced in what is known as Brown H by an additional clarification in which the Court held that public schools must integrate "with all deliberate speed." Social conditions and failure to integrate public education necessitated follow-up legislation, especially in certain regions of the country where deliberate stalling tactics were widely implemented.

Now in 2004, 50 years later, a number of important questions must be asked: How far have we come in achieving equity in our U.S. school systems, colleges, and universities? Indeed, what are the implications of Brown for those who work in schools, colleges, and universities? Is creating and maintaining a diverse student body a priority value for educational institutions? And if the answer is a predictable "yes," then what are necessary steps in recruiting, retaining, and graduating a diverse student body at all levels of the educational enterprise? How do contemporary students rate their current teachers and themselves low or high on a diversity climate scale? Is our U.S. society better off because of our collective educational efforts to provide access and opportunity for a solid academic education for all students?

Answers to the above questions can be found, in part, in the work of some of the most widely read social scientists and education writers of the past decade. For example, 4the work of Delpit, Sleeter, Betances, Jacobs, and Nieto suggest that we "have a long way to go before we can sleep." In other words, the aims of Brown v Board of Education are far from having been achieved in the U.S., despite the 50 years that have elapsed since the initial legislation was passed.

This article explores some of the above questions and presents answers, but first a brief historical recap is needed to set the stage for treating such questions. In 1954, the year of Brown I,

* Public schools, colleges, and universities were, for the most part, separate for black and whites. By law, in the South, white students and black students attended separate schools [de jure]. By custom, in the North, it was typically the case that school attendance was separated along racial lines [de facto]. In today's contemporary U.S. society, of course, public schools cannot legally be separated by race.

* Schools for white and black students were almost always unequal no matter what evaluation measures were used.

* Many held that black students were "deprived of equal educational opportunity" through their "separate but equal schools. …

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