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May 17, 2014

In Our Opinion: 60 years after 'Brown,' work isn't over

Way back in 1896, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that separate facilities for different races were OK as long as they were equal.

But through the decades it became more than apparent that the idea of “separate but equal” was much more about “separate” than it was “equal,” particularly when it came to the nation’s schools.

Then, 60 years ago today, in what was then a highly controversial ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court took a giant step in righting a grievous wrong when it unanimously stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” and a violation of the Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

“Brown” is now regarded as one of the shining moments in American judicial history, even as it is apparent that it did not come close to solving the problems of racial prejudice and inequality in the United States.

A class action suit was filed in 1951 at the behest of the NAACP by the parents of 20 children against the board of Education in Topeka, Kan., and was named after one of the plaintiffs, Oliver L. Brown.

In 1953, Earl Warren was appointed Chief Justice by President Dwight Eisenhower, reversing in this case what had been a judicial reluctance for activism. Warren put “Brown” in the most simple terms. The only reason to continue segregation, he told his colleagues, was to insist that African Americans (“Negroes” at that time) were inherently inferior to whites.

That the vote was unanimous was regarded as important to the implementation of the law, which met resistance in some places because of forced busing and in others, well-established racism.

So, where are we, six decades after “Brown”?

Certainly not where we would like to be. The rantings of a National Basketball Association owner and the dangers to a black teenager of wearing a hoodie in a state with “stand your ground” laws are just two illustrations that “Brown” hasn’t come close to ending racism.

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