If it were possible for laws to change hearts, then today - 50 years after the Supreme Court's historic Brown vs. Board of Education ruling - most of America's classrooms would reflect America's increasingly diverse make-up. They do not.
Most inner-city schools systems, including Cincinnati Public Schools, are filled with minority students; most suburban school districts by whites.
Clearly, Brown did not completely solve the problem of segregated schools. It did, however, turn America's government-sanctioned discrimination on its face, and set the tone for the dramatic social progress America has made in the past 50 years. It was time.
The May 17, 1954 decision challenged the immorality of segregation and laid the foundation for legal victories, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the long-term social change that followed.
The Supreme Court made it clear that separate educational facilities for blacks were inherently unequal. "The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the Negro group," Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in his opinion, "A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. ..." Brown did not immediately solve the problems associated with government-sanctioned racial discrimination. But neither did any of the other civil rights laws. Over time, because anti-discrimination laws were on the books, America's collective social conscience changed.
Today African-Americans are firmly entrenched in local and state governments, business and other areas that were not accessible to them in 1954.
None of us can change the fact that segregation by choice exists - in housing, schools and in the work place. Those are matters of the heart. But there is overwhelming evidence today that the United States has made tremendous strides in almost every category, from government to higher education to the business.
President Bush's Cabinet includes five ethnic minorities, including three Americans of African descent. The president of Brown University is an African-American woman, and African-Americans are now top executives in America's largest corporations, including Fannie Mae, American Express, and AOL/Time Warner.
Brown's intent was meant to help black students. Fifty years later, it has helped to transform a nation, as evidenced in the following letter, sent to us by 10-year-old Mary Ruth Martin, a fourth-grader at Fairview German Language school in Cincinnati:
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.
A point well taken.
BROWN vs. B.O.E.
Ruling that changed America
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