February is Black History Month. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), is the landmark Supreme Court decision unanimously striking down those state laws establishing public school racial segregation and overruling the Court’s prior ‘separate but equal’ decision in Plessy v. Fergusson by finding that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal," and therefore violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The fourteen (14) page decision does not spell out any sort of method for ending racial segregation in schools … and too many communities continue to fail to comply with the Court's second decision in Brown II (349 U.S. 294 (1955)) to desegregate "with all deliberate speed" to this very day. Nevertheless, Brown paved the way for integration and was a major victory of the Civil Rights Movement.
The little girl at the epicenter of the controversy was an elementary school girl named Linda Brown (2/20/1943 to 3/25/2018). The genesis of the case filed by the NAACP was that Linda, and the children of the twelve other class action plaintiffs were denied access to their neighborhood schools because of their race. Consequently, they were required to walk as many blocks to wait for the city bus to begin their long commute to their segregated school as their neighborhood school was from their homes. The lead plaintiff was Linda's pastor / welder father, Oliver Brown. Linda grew into an advocate for equal access to education working as a Head Start teacher, program associate in the Brown Foundation, public speaker, and education consultant. Throughout her life she was a tireless civil rights advocate.
In 1979, Brown reopened her case against the Board of Education as a parent with children attending Topeka schools, arguing that segregation continued. The appeals court ruled in her favor in 1993. But, undeniably, the fight continues in many towns and cities across the country. ____ I'm tagging my friend, Mary Read Courtney, because Mary left corporate America and took a job teaching science at a Rochester city school. According to a recent report, Monroe County is one of the most educationally segregated counties in the country. Mary has taken up the charge to do her part to level the playing field notwithstanding the best efforts of far too many others that protect their power, position and privilege by maintaining the status quo. I went to college with Mary. She is kind, bright, funny, and talented. But, most importantly, she cares. Her students are lucky to have her. Where would we be without people like Mary who make their life choices out of a deep concern for others? Thank you, Mary.