This month marks the 58th anniversary of an event that transformed our nation: the Supreme Court decision on Brown vs. Board of Education. Before the court decision, schools across America were unjustly segregated. In Topeka, Kansas, black children were forced to attend one of the four blacks-only schools a mile or more from their home every day. In 1951, for every $150 spent on white children at the “white schools,” there was only $50 spent for every black child at their schools which led to limited and outdated resources.
Under the circumstances of segregated schools, the parents believed that their children were being taught to think themselves inferior to whites. Thirteen parents, including Oliver Brown, tried to enroll their children in white-only schools in the Topeka School District in 1951. Oliver’s daughter, Linda, was forced to travel miles, each way, to attend her black school, when a white school was only six blocks from her home. Her daily trek involved walking through a dangerous railroad switching station.
The children were denied admittance to the “whites only” schools and so the parents decided to sue. A Kansas state court ruled in favor of the Board of Education citing a previous court case that allowed for the segregation of schools across America.
The court also stated that they believed the children would be better accustomed to the harsher segregation they will face as adults if they stayed in their black schools. The court had now confirmed the parents’ belief that their children would always be taught to deem themselves inferior to whites.
The case was then brought before the Supreme Court. After three years of testimony and deliberation, the Supreme Court unanimously overruled the state court’s decision. Schools across America would now be desegregated and children of all races would have access to the same education.
In 2004, I co-chaired the Illinois Commission on the 50th Anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education. Through this commission, data was compiled into a reference website created by Chicago State University. The Commission created a reenactment of the court decision by building a set mimicking the Supreme Court and the justices of the Illinois Supreme Court acted as the judges who made this historic decision in 1954. Comcast broadcasted this event live to every class room in the state allowing the children to interact by submitting questions through the internet for us to answer. To see visit the website and to see a recording of the live reenactment, please visit www.illinoisbrownvboard.org.
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