A look back at Brown v. Board of Education
by Craig Emanuel
In honor of Black History Month and the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, during lunch time in the office yesterday, the attorneys and staff of the law firm were invited to watch a documentary looking back at the impact (or sadly the lack of impact) of this landmark decision where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state laws which established separate public schools for black and white students was unconstitutional. In a unanimous decision of the Warren Court, the court ruled that such conduct was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Sadly, when we look back at the impact of this important decision, it is evident that we still have a long way to go before there is true equality and equal opportunity for black and white students in the United States. The same is equally true for many other minorities.
In a book entitled Better Off Without ‘Em written by Chuck Thompson, a somewhat satirical look at whether or not the United States would be better off without the South, the author discusses amongst many topics, the problems confronting public education in the South focusing on the fact that public education is largely funded by county property taxes which explains why public schools in more affluent areas tend to have better public education than in less affluent areas where families struggle to make ends meet. There is continued resistance amongst some well established and long serving southern politicians to raise property taxes for fear that such conduct could result in them losing office to more conservative opponents who support the out of date, status quo!
One of the more troubling sections of the book describes the conduct of the Department of Education overseeing Biloxi, Mississippi in 2010 where the school board voted to close the Nichols Elementary School in Biloxi, a public school attended largely by black students and which had been named a “Blue Ribbon School” for its previous year’s performance which outperformed the local private school which was attended by an almost exclusive white student body. The National Blue Ribbon School Program recognizes both public and private schools where students perform at a very high academic level.
The school board’s decision to shut the school was rationalized as a result of declining enrollment in the post Katrina era, as well as budget shortfalls. Recognizing the importance of keeping schools like Nichols open, the Kellogg Foundation made an offer in excess of $3 million to help fund the school over a three-year period. Despite such a generous and unprecedented offer, the school board maintained its position on shutting down the school and effectively denying education to the local black population, on what was clearly driven by a desire to ensure the white private school could not be seen as being outperformed by the local black public school.
How is it possible in this day and age that such conduct is allowed to continue? What is the point of Brown v Board of Education if there is no enforcement of the judgment? Wasn’t the same true for a long period of time after emancipation?
Isn’t it easiest enough to comprehend that the cost to society on not educating our children creates a bigger financial burden, than if we invested a little bit more money in giving each and every child a basic education so that they can become productive members of society? It is time that we do something about this, not only because it makes sound economic sense, but because it should be and needs to be the right of every individual to receive a good and well balanced education.
“All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like Us, are We
And every one else is They:
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of over the way,
You may end by (think of it!) looking on We
As only a sort of They!”
― Rudyard Kipling, Debits and Credits