IWF senior fellow Michelle Bernard was on NPR’s “The Tavis Smiley Show” on Friday, May 21, to comment on the ongoing legacy of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which had its 50th anniversary on May 17.
Click here to listen to Michelle Bernard read this statement on NPR.
When thinking about Brown v. Board of Education, one cannot help but recall images of the many heroes of that time. The images are like magic. Grainy, black and white photographs of Linda Brown and her sister walking through railroad tracks to catch a bus that could take them to their segregated school. Thurgood Marshall, George Hayes and James Nabrit standing in front of the US Supreme Court. A mother and daughter sitting on the steps of the Supreme Court holding a newspaper that bore the headline, “High Court Bans Segregation in Public Schools.”
Fifty years after Brown, we should remember their courage, majesty and brilliance in forcing the nation to recognize that an equal education is the birth right of every child. The eldest of four children, I was born about 10 years after the Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling in Brown. As a young child, I most certainly had little appreciation of the political discourse and civil rights struggles that followed Brown. However, as a result of the many biographies my parents introduced me to, I not only gained a strong appreciation for the fact that I could read, but for those I read about. I read biographies about Sojourner Truth, Harriett Tubman, and Shirley Chisholm, Frederick Douglass and Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall and Charles Hamilton Houston. As a young black child, I recognized the wisdom of these great black women and men. I learned that education is necessary to achieve true equality.
In Brown, the Supreme Court held that the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place in public education and that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. In declaring this the law of the land, the Court stated that “it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity…is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” Fifty years after Brown, the black students at the heart of that landmark case are still fighting for access to quality education and the nation’s public schools are still separate and unequal.
Today, growing numbers of black, Latino and low income children are enrolled in poorly performing public schools with few, if any, non-minority students. There has been virtually little, if any reduction in the gap in nationwide test scores between blacks, Puerto Ricans and Mexican-American students versus white and Asian students.
Our public school system cannot allow children to repeatedly fail without realizing that in doing so, we risk creating a permanent underclass of black, Latino and low income children with little hope for the future. Those who must live with the reality of the consequences that flow from failing schools are demanding school choice in the form of education vouchers, education tax credits or charter schools. School choice and public schools that work are the unfinished agenda of Brown.
Let us recall the majesty and brilliance of Mary McLeod Bethune when she said, “The drums of Africa still beat in my heart. They will not let me rest while there is a single Negro boy or girl without a chance to prove his worth.”