Equity & Diversity

Brown Panel Seeks to Stir Passion for History, Civil Rights

By Mark Walsh — November 20, 2002 3 min read

A federal commission formed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education hopes to use the occasion to stir passion about history and civil rights among a generation of Americans too young to remember officially segregated schools.

“Young people really do not know what the country was like before Brown,” Roger Wilkins, a professor of history and American culture at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and a commission member, said during the panel’s inaugural meeting here last week. “This is a moment we really must seize and squeeze the greatest educational advantage out of.”

The 22-member commission was created by Congress to coordinate commemorative activities around the golden anniversary of the May 17, 1954, Supreme Court ruling striking down so-called “separate but equal” schools.

The initiating statute calls on the panel to work closely with the Department of Education and the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence, and Research in Topeka, Kan., to coordinate activities surrounding the event.

“The anniversary is an opportunity to put race relations back on the national agenda,” said Cheryl Brown Henderson, the foundation’s president and a daughter of Oliver Brown, the Topeka father who was the named plaintiff in the historic case.

The commission has representatives from various federal agencies as well as from the five jurisdictions involved in the cases in the Supreme Court’s deliberations in Brown—Delaware, Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. (The district’s case resulted in a separate opinion, Bolling v. Sharpe.)

The law specified that Massachusetts be represented because it was home to the first legal challenge to segregated schools. (The state’s highest court upheld segregation in an 1849 decision known as Roberts v. City of Boston.)

Joseph A. DeLaine, whose father helped bring the challenge to segregated schools in South Carolina in a case known as Briggs v. Elliott, said his family had to move out of the state after the Brown decision because of violent threats.

“I stay in contact with about 400 descendants of those folks involved in the Briggs case,” Mr. DeLaine, a commission member, said at the meeting.

The law calls for the commission to sponsor public lectures and student writing contests about Brown, among other activities. Congress authorized $250,000 over two years, but the panel may accept corporate and philanthropic contributions as well.

The commission, however, cannot make policy recommendations because the statute does not allow it, said Dan Sutherland, the panel’s executive director.

Cautionary Note

Theodore Shaw, the associate director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, warned fellow commission members against “hollow” celebrations of the Brown decision that do not take into account the current state of race relations.

“As a nation, I think we honor Brown more in principle than in practice these days,” he said.

At the Nov. 13 meeting, the commission heard from several organizations that already have a head start on planning commemorative activities. Howard University Law School, which hosted the inaugural commission meeting and helped incubate the legal arguments against segregation in the 1950s, is planning symposiums and courses about Brown.

The Smithsonian Institution is hard at work on a Brown exhibit, which is scheduled to open May 17, 2004, at the National Museum of American History here.

And the National Park Service is converting one of the four one-time black schools in Topeka into a national historic site. The $11 million project was authorized by Congress in 1992 and will include exhibits and interpretive experiences, said Steven Adams, the site director. It is also scheduled to open on the anniversary date.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the November 20, 2002 edition of Education Week as Brown Panel Seeks to Stir Passion for History, Civil Rights

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Data Analyst
New York, NY, US
New Visions for Public Schools
Project Manager
United States
K12 Inc.
High School Permanent Substitute Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District
MS STEM Teacher
Woolwich Township, NJ, US
Kingsway Regional School District

Read Next

Equity & Diversity Opinion How Teachers Can Get America's Story Right
The attack on the U.S. Capitol shows why we need more inclusive schools, writes a teacher advocate.
Scott Goldstein
3 min read
18Goldstein 1126473545
iStock/Getty
Equity & Diversity Opinion Eight Strategies for Engaging in Culturally Relevant Teaching
Mariana Souto-Manning answers questions about her book, "No More Culturally Irrelevant Teaching," in the final post of a two-part series.
9 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Equity & Diversity Opinion Author Interview: 'No More Culturally Irrelevant Teaching'
Mariana Souto-Manning discusses her book, which highlights designing spaces where BIPOC students feel, see, and experience belonging.
10 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Equity & Diversity Opinion When Social-Emotional Learning Is Misused
Your school's SEL practices could be driving inequity, warn educators Eve Colavito and Kalila Hoggard.
Eve Colavito & Kalila Hoggard
5 min read
Lonely young woman looking through concrete window at cloudy sky
E+/Getty