In Print: The Unfinished Agenda of Brown
Fifty years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, key questions remain. Was the promise of Brown realized — and if not, why? What real gains have been made and what losses sustained as a result of the decision? What has been its impact socially, culturally, economically and psychologically?
In an attempt to find answers to these and other crucial questions concerning school integration and the legacy of Brown, the editors of Black Issues solicited the opinions of a diverse group of activists, scholars, jurists, educators and theorists. The result is The Unfinished Agenda of Brown v. Board of Education, a collection of essays offering a range of views both thought-provoking and, at times, controversial.
Here are a few excepts from the book:
I believe passionately that there exists now, as in the 1950’s, a critical need to foster national dialogue about Brown and its unfinished agenda. Some serious questions warrant discussion. What is the historical importance of this decision as we look back from the turn of the 21st century? Was the racial injustice that the opinion decried reduced as a result of the ruling? Have any of the criticisms of the decision withstood the test of time, and most importantly, where do we go from here?
As Paul Robeson noted in early 1955, opponents of the decision were far from satisfied and “responded with howls of anguish and threats of retaliation.” Some in the Negro press even argued that the heated opposition to Brown in the Deep South fanned the flames of racial hatred and contributed, in Mississippi, to the environment that hatched the lynching of Emmet Till in 1955. If this seems farfetched we should note the disturbing sexual subtext of Eisenhower’s comment to Earl Warren which expresses fear of the proximity of “big overgrown Negroes” to “sweet little (White) girls” and hints at the emotionally volatile core of opposition to desegregation in education.
I stand with the late Judge A. Leon Higginbotham in believing that Brown, with all its flaws — stands as the “most important governmental act of any kind since the emancipation proclamation.”
— Tavis Smiley, Political Commentator
Fifty years ago, even 40 years ago, African American teachers taught almost exclusively African American students. Today many students including African American students, as well as students in general, may matriculate through elementary and secondary schools — even college — and never be taught by an African American teacher, much less see one in their schools. Today, there are more students from racial and ethnic minority groups, including African Americans, in our schools, and more are graduating. Many still need help to acquire the educational foundation needed to succeed in our global society. Who teaches them to meet the challenges of the future is as important as what they are taught.
Those who opposed the Brown decision were prepared to do all within their power to minimize its effect in achieving the goal of educational equity and parity for America’s children. By removing Black educators from the classroom, some of the most powerful role models of academic achievement were removed, not just for Black children, but also for all children. Fortitude and perseverance have always defined us as a people — whether in the fields as slaves, in the classroom as teachers, or in the corporate boardrooms as chief executive officers. That same fortitude and perseverance must hold steadfast as we prepare for a future that will be more challenging than any other era in our history.
— Mary Hatwood Futrell, Dean, Graduate School of Education and Human Development, George Washington University
Multicultural Impact I
Although originally included in affirmative action plans, once they were deemed overrepresented because their numbers in higher education and professional schools exceeded their percentage in the larger population, Asian Americans were quietly excluded from further consideration. Even more insidious, however, it was discovered in the 1980s and 1990s that elite institutions such as Stanford, Brown and UCLA had quietly imposed a top-town quota on Asian American admissions, similar to the quotas imposed on Jewish immigrant students at the front end of the 20th century. In other words, when Asian American students were able to compete as individuals against White students on the basis of the traditional meritocracy such as grades and test scores, and without the benefit of affirmative action considerations, they were subject to a higher set of standards and criteria in order to hold their numbers down in competition with White students.
— Evelyn Hu-DeHart, Director, Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, Brown University
multicultural impact ii
The reality and persistence of these issues, however, can be dramatically seen in the type of lawsuits that U.S. Latinos, much like Blacks and other minorities, have been forced to file in attempts to secure equality of education in this country. Although educators have long monitored progress on a great number of education issues, they have largely remained aware of but impassively oblivious to the struggles that Mexican-descent students encounter. It is only by resorting reluctantly to the courts that Latinos have been able to improve their education prospects.
Ironically, many minorities also lead the efforts to abolish affirmative action under the belief that their educational achievements are depreciated, disparaged and seen as less valuable. Yet almost everyone ought to recognize that race continues to make a difference in meeting the educational needs of students, and outlawing discrimination alone will not eliminate the effects of racial bias.
— Marco Portales, Professor of English, Texas A&M University
Voices of the Era
Young people today cannot imagine what segregation was like. They have no idea. Parents don’t talk to them about it because they want to protect children from it. Some young people say they would not sit at the back of the bus, that they would have demanded their seat. But they don’t understand that they would have been killed, too. It’s so hard to convince young people of what that life was like. I have yet to find an effective way to tell my students, Black and White, what segregation was really like. I can give examples. I can talk about how silly it was that Black and White people didn’t even play checkers together. I can talk about the difference between public school expenditures for Black and White kids, give the facts and figures, but I can’t show them what it really was like. I can’t make the White kids stand in the back, facing the back of the room, or tell every student who comes in that they have to go in a particular door based on their race. I can’t beat the ones who decide they won’t walk through a particular door to show them that is what it really was like. It’s hard to make them understand that experience now.
— Julian Bond, Chairman, Board of Directors, NAACP
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com