By Krista Ramsey
The Cincinnati Enquirer
In a short, powerfully written opinion handed down May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ended legal segregation in America's public schools. In Brown v. Board of Education, the court put American law firmly on the side of equality, setting the stage for the civil rights legislation that would, a decade later, vastly change American life.
On the eve of its 50th anniversary, Americans look back on Brown with mixed feelings. While the case ended state-sponsored segregation, it did not achieve integration. While it affirmed black students' right to equal protection and equal opportunity, it did not provide full remedy.
But arguments over Brown's effectiveness are only those of scope and degree. Clearly, Brown changed American life forever. And whether fully achieved or partly accomplished, Brown burned into our minds phrases that will echo through our history: deprived of equal protection, inherently unequal, no place in the field of education.
Today, retired federal appeals court justice Nathaniel Jones and long-time civil rights attorney William Taylor address Brown's impact in essays 50 years later.
Teachers share what students are saying
The meaning of 'deliberate'
I've always taught Brown in government and law classes because it teaches the 14th Amendment, due process and equality under the law.
Students understand the importance of Brown, but they don't realize that nothing happened in terms of desegregation for another decade after it. They want to know what "all deliberate speed" means. I tell them deliberate means taking your time while speed implies quickness - that it was written as an ambiguous mandate.
Students are confused that our court system could make a ruling and not put any teeth in it. You can sense frustration, especially among African American students, that it is written that way. I tell them that just to have the case settled was monumental, that while the language did not create a favorable climate for desegregation, it did allow later desegregation, and that was very significant.
Jim O'Connor, Social studies teacher, Princeton High School
Reminders of the civil rights struggle
I think students are struck by how slowly the desegregation process moved. We talk about how grudgingly it took place.
They're often surprised to learn that magnet schools in Cincinnati Public Schools were an effort to desegregate the district. When they see pictures and videos of the civil rights struggle, they're also struck by the level of violence, the level of bigotry and the attempts to put a halt to integration of schools, lunch counters and movie theaters. I think that takes students aback.
Timothy Lynch, Professor of history, College of Mount St. Joseph
No evidence of success in our own schools
This week I pointed out that it had been 50 years since Brown. I've shown a video on the Jim Crow laws, and my students were amazed at the difference in the conditions of the buildings that black students attended. We have also talked about the Harlem Renaissance and about people moving from the South to Harlem because northern schools were supposedly better. I asked them, "So is integration working?" We looked around the classroom and there were no white students in the class. That's what was the most amazing - that after 50 years of integration, Cincinnati Public Schools has some of the most segregated schools in the country.
Wellyn Collins, History teacher, Hughes Center, Cincinnati Public Schools
What's wrong with equal but separate
The kids are amazed that they had laws like that, to segregate people in the first place. Most students - and most people - don't know the degree of it, that textbooks used by black students and textbooks used by white students had to be stored separately, that no bus transportation was provided for black students because white people were paying more in taxes.
Some students ask, if the schools were equal, what was wrong with separate schools? I tell them that when you tell people they have to go to separate places, you're telling one group that they're not good enough.
Victor Harris, Social studies teacher, Sycamore Junior High School
More readers' letters
Differences make the world a better place
I am 10 years old, and a fourth-grade student at Fairview German Language school. My letter is about desegregation.
At my school we are 20 different kinds of people: African, German, Jewish, Asian and more, and we help each other have fun.
God wouldn't have created different kinds of people to be treated in different kinds of ways.
I cry when I see pictures of the past. God loves us because of who we are.
If in 1960 they hadn't said, "No segregation," the world wouldn't be good enough to live in because without different people there is no point . . . also I would have no friends.
Mary Ruth Martin, Fairview Heights
Achievement could also be a societal issue
Fifty years after the landmark legal case, we keep hearing educational achievement gaps between white and minority students are not based on genetics. They are based on an inadequate education system. I agree it is not genetics, but it is certainly not an inadequate education system. These kids, white and black, have been attending the same schools for years. As a whole, white students have been succeeding, while black students have continued to lag behind.
Is it possible that this is not an educational issue exclusively? Is it possible that this is a societal issue? Is it possible that these children are not being taught at home any of the values or principles that they will need in order to be successful in school and life? It is not the educational system that is failing these kids; it is their parents and their communities. If a child cannot read by the age of 10, no one should take more responsibility then the parents. No parent worth a darn would allow that to happen to their child. Stop blaming teachers. It appears that everyone must be held to certain lofty standards except the parents.
Vincent Leta, Price Hill
Our neighborhoods have suffered
Desegregation has ruined the neighborhoods. Most of the kids wanted to stay in their own neighborhoods. This is why we are having now, and from the beginning of this forced busing, all the problems in the schools. Discipline problems are at an all-time high. There is no discipline. Go back to letting kids go to their own neighborhood school.
Marlene Quinn, Northside
BROWN vs. B.O.E.
Ruling that changed America
Jones: Education remains key to equality
Taylor: Promise has yet to be fully realized
'Brown' was our moral compass
BROWN vs. B.O.E. special section
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