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Brown v. Board of Education has reached an important milestone as it marks the 6oth Anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision that ended the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine and desegregated public education in America. On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine should be removed from public education. However, it took several years before many Americans, especially in the South, would have access to equal education and challenges still exist 60 years later.
In observance of the 6oth Anniversary milestone, it is interesting to reflect upon what progress and changes have been made in the wake of the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision. An intriguing case to explore involved the integration of Girard College in Philadelphia. Although Pennsylvania schools were ahead of the times and desegregated by law in the 1880s, Girard College remained an exclusively white institution and excluded minorities, due to the wishes and will of the school’s chief benefactor and namesake. The 1954 decision helped further efforts to desegregate the school. However, it was not until 1968, after nearly 15 more years of activism that institutional desegregation would come to fruition. Today, 60 years after Brown, the student body of Girard College is largely African-American. While the institution has had its challenges, its legacy to help underprivileged children remains intact.
The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision served as the first major step in dismantling the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine that justified the notorious Jim Crow laws, which were racial segregation laws that were enacted at the state and local levels of government across the South. Slavery, which served as the precursor to racial segregation, was once referred to by President James Madison as America’s “original sin.” President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation officially ended slavery in the United States, and nearly a century later, the U.S. Supreme Court officially ended ‘separate but equal’ public school education and initiated the desegregation of public areas and institutions with its landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
To commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the historic ruling, President Barack Obama called upon the nation to recommit itself to the long struggle of stamping out bigotry and racism in all forms. He reiterated the belief that all children deserve an education worthy of their potential. Additionally, he also asked the nation to remember that change does not happen overnight and paid homage to the nationwide civil rights movement that worked so tirelessly to fully realize the dream of equality and integration for all citizens. Moreover, Obama pledged to never forget the people who devoted and risked their lives in the quest to achieve more equality and freedom. Meanwhile, First Lady Michelle Obama paid homage to the anniversary in Topeka, Kansas, which is the origin site of the lawsuit that initiated the case. She spent the day meeting with local high school students and delivered remarks at a preparatory event for graduating seniors in the Topeka Public School District.
Sixty years ago, the Brown v. Board of Education decision succeeded in curtailing the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine and ended the Jim Crow laws. Sixty years later, there has been much progress made towards that goal of more equality, freedom, and integration. However, separate-and-not-so-equal conditions continue to persist in some areas of public education, housing, employment, economic well-being, and prison rates even today. It is obvious that challenges still exist 60 years later in the wake of the Brown case, and further steps need to be taken toward fuller integration as a nation.
Opinion by Leigh Haugh