Brown Anniversary Speakers Say Anger Needed in Debate Over Education
Activists need to be as angry now about inadequate public schools as they were during the 1960s about Blacks being denied their civil rights, speakers at an NAACP conference on education said last month.
Kweisi Mfume, NAACP president and chief executive officer, told conference participants that improving schools is among the “unmet challenges” left from the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954.
“Fifty years later, the gradual resegregation of our public schools and the unequal nature of public funding still require that we do more,” Mfume said.
The NAACP held an “Education Summit of the States” to help commemorate the May 17, 2004, 50th anniversary of the Brown decision, which declared segregated schools unconstitutional.
The organization painted a pessimistic picture of where states stand in providing adequate funds for their schools and addressing achievement gaps among students. In a report, the NAACP listed education as “still unequal” in all 50 states, concluding “there’s a serious problem” in each.
“I think what we really need to do is get mad,” said Deryl Davis, education chairwoman for the Wisconsin NAACP. “We need to make some noise. What happened back in the 1960s is that we got mad.”
About 200 people were participating in the conference, including about 100 educators, state officials, business representatives and civil-rights activists who had a roundtable discussion of education issues. Mfume spoke to an audience of about 150 people, including Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
During the education roundtable, Dennis Hayes, the NAACP’s chief counsel, said that when the group filed lawsuits over segregated schools in the 1950s, “The idea was not integration in and of itself.” Instead, he said, attorneys thought more resources would be dedicated to educating Black children if schools were integrated.
Hayes said that, partly because the courts have retreated, “This country is going to become increasingly segregated — that is just the reality.
“We’re looking at another 50 years — or God knows how many — before we see true integration,” Hayes said.
Mfume sounded a more optimistic note in his speech, noting that he started school in the fall of 1954, after the Brown decision. He called the 50th anniversary an opportunity “to recommit ourselves to sharing a basic dream.”
Yet he also said: “Too many of our schools 50 years later are overcrowded and ill-equipped, and too often, drugs are more available than textbooks.”
“We’ve forgotten how to get our hands dirty,” said Audrey Gaul, the education chairwoman for the New York NAACP. “We did it in the ’60s, and it worked beautifully.”
— Associated Press
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