Brown v. Board
A Legacy Still in the Making
From School and Housing Policies to the Courts
Sixty-five years ago, the Brown v. Board of Education ruling promised integrated and equitable schools. Today, as one sign of progress, housing officials collaborate with educators to integrate neighborhoods as one means to achieving school integration.
“Housing and school policies have a strong connection and can deeply affect patterns of racial and economic progress in communities,” says Harry Lawson, director of NEA’s Human and Civil Rights Office. “This makes it important for educators and education advocates who understand the benefits of school integration to meet with housing officials and make recommendations on attendance zones and school district boundaries.”
‘We Cannot Walk Away From That Commitment’
On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court announced its decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” the Court ruled unanimously, declaring that schools and other institutions violated the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
The doctrine of “separate but equal,” which had been the law of the land since 1896 when Plessy v. Ferguson was decided, was audaciously overturned. Thurgood Marshall, a leading attorney with the case, recalled, “I was so happy I was numb.” He predicted that school segregation would come to an end within five years.
What happened? Did Brown matter?
Educators Share their Stories
“I saw a crowd of parents, angry at the forced bussing of their children. They began to hurl rocks, bits of cement, anything at a passing bus of African-American kindergarteners…”
— Ginger Packet, Virginia
“I am an African American female educator who helped integrate Inman Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia as a staff member. Vividly, I remember being denied the use of restrooms by co-workers using tricks with signs saying out of order and other humiliating acts….”
— Wylma Blanding, Georgia
“Although the laws had been on the books for years, integration had not been enforced in Florida up until then. The school system planned to integrate the staff the first year and the students the second year. I was one of five or six white staff members hired to teach at an elementary school that was 100% black.”
— Pamela Chapell, Florida
“On the first day of school, my sister along with twelve other brave black students, arrived at the local white high school only to find that no teachers, administrators, or students were there…”
— Dena Henderson-Sewell, Alabama
“When we talk about segregation, it’s not just what is happening in our schools.
We have to also address the structural racism in our country. We are one system in a collection of systems … housing, banking.
As educators, we have a huge responsibility but we can’t do it by ourselves.”
—Becky Pringle, NEA Vice President
In The First Person
Educators and students discuss the persistence of school segregation.
The Story of the Clinton 12
Clinton High School in Clinton, Tennessee was the first public high school that underwent court order desegregation. This is the story of 12 brave students who didn’t give up on their right for a public education.
"I had to be rushed to the hospital after a racist attack when I was a child."
Gwen Day Fuller, a retired teacher and NEA member, recalls the struggle for civil rights and the inspiration she felt as part of the movement for change.
"My school was integrated in the 5th grade"
“I was the only black student in a class of 30. I thought I had done something wrong…So I sat in the back of the class, didn’t raise my hand and didn’t speak.“
"We have not reached the promise. We are not giving up!"
"Usually in my AP classes, I was the only African-American girl"
College student Kelsey Nelson shares her thoughts and experiences with how decades after Brown v. Board, U.S. schools are still segregated.
"I asked my principal if I could go to the march from Selma. He gave me the school camera."
Harry Klugel had just started teaching history in Montgomery County Maryland. He asked his principal for permission to join the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. He was granted leave and given a school camera to take pictures. He now shares his story.
Resources for your school community
Our education system is intended to uphold equal opportunity, but too often it also entrenches racial disparities by its design. We are engaging educators, students and allies to foster real dialogue around issues of racial justice in education, to examine policies and practices in our school systems and our communities, and to mobilize and take action for education justice.
65 years after Brown v. Board, find out how students, schools, and neighborhoods can benefit when educators and advocates work together.