In these days it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms ." From Chief Justice Earl Warren's opinion for the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, May 17, 1954.
Twenty five years ago, when Charles Scott was the attorney for the Topeka, Kan., parents who brought suit in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education, his son, Charles Jr., was a first grader in an all-black Topeka classroom. Linda Brown -- the "Brown" in the historic case -- was a student in another segregated school in Topeka.
Yesterday, when a federal judge in Topeka ordered the case reopened after eight parents -- including Linda Brown, now 36 -- charged that the city schools their children attend are still segregated, Charles Scott Jr., the attorney for the group, had this to say:
"The wheel has turned all the way around, and nothing has changed."
"Twenty five years later, the only thing that has changed for black people here is that the quality of their children's education has declined," said the 31-year-old attorney. "The Supreme Court's decision hasn't changed a thing."
The original Brown ruling struck down a 1949 Kansas law allowing racial segregation of school children in some cities. Kansas and three other states allowed school segregation while 17 states and the District of Columbia required it.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Rogers said yesterday he was making no decision on the racial status of Topeka's 35-school system. But he ruled that the city's black parents have a continuing interest in seeing that the original desegregation order is carried out. The judge said the case should be reopened in light of their complaint.
The eight black parents have argued that the pattern of racial segregation in Topeka's schools that prompted the civil rights litigation a quarter of a century ago remains, even though the Supreme Court said it must end. Schools with heavy minority enrollments they said, are provided teaching aids and materials inferior to those found at schools with predominatly white student bodies.
"Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other 'tangible' factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal education opportunities? We believe it does." From Justice Warren's opinion
Topeka school officials say they have tried to comply with the Supreme Court's order over the years. "We submitted a corrective plan to the court and it has been implemented since 1961," Charles Henson, the school board's attorney, explained yesterday.
The long-range plan will eventually shut eight of the city's most heavily segregated schools. School officials say only one elementary school has greater than a 70 percent minority enrollment. The black parents say there still are three such schools in Topeka and several more nearly half filled with minority students. About 24 percent of the city's 16,875 students are minorities.
The latest attendance figures, released in September by the school board, show this: On the city's east side, where most of Topeka's blacks live, three elementary schools have more than 60 percent minority enrollments. An east side junior high has a 71.4 percent minority enrollment and the only high school contains 36.8 percent minority students.
On the city's west and south sides, the school board records show, there are elementary schools with enrollments as little as 3 percent minority, a junior high with a 4 percent figure and a minority enrollment figure of 4.8 percent at the area high school.
"It is pretty clear that the school board's long-range plan perpetuated segregation in the system instead of ending it," said Richard Jones, another attorney for the black plaintiffs. The American Civil Liberties Union has put up $10,000 to cover most of the group's legal fees.
"To separate [black grade and high school students] from other of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in way unlikely ever to be undone."
In its brief countering the current petition, the school board argued this month that the parents' group should file a new lawsuit instead of reopening the Brown case. Despite the Supreme Court's ruling, the case has never been officially closed.
The school board and the parents disagree on the reason. "These desegregation cases are in a class by themselves," said Henson, the school board attorney. "Apparently this one has remained open because none of the parties felt there was a need to approach the court again."
"School desegregation cases have a way of coming back again and again," said Scott, the attorney for the parents. "I guess that is part of the point we are trying to make."
The Brown case was revived, he said, when a black parent charged in 1973 that his young daughter was getting an inferior education in Topeka schools because of her race.
The charge attracted the attention of the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. HEW ordered changes in the school system and Topeka filed its plan. Last December the case was settled in secret and when the settlement -- a $19,000 award to the girl's family -- was revealed this year a number of blacks in Topeka were angered.
"Since this was the 25th anniversary of the original Brown decision they came to a few lawyers in town and asked us to go something," said Jones. "They felt that after all this time they had been sold down the river."
The parents group went to federal court in August with the unusual request that Brown be reopened and that after 25 years they be allowed to intervene. The decision by Judge Rogers yesterday granted that motion.
"We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."
Since 1954 Linda Brown has grown up, been married and divorced. Her two children began school in the same classroom that she did in 1951. The class was all black that year, she recalled, and it was 98 percent black when her children went to school.
Charles Smith, her oldest son, goes to Highland Park High School on the city's south side. Most of the faces in his class, he said, are black.
I had a funny feeling when I heard the judge agreed to reopen the case," he said yesterday. "I began to wonder whether my kids will be in this lawsuit too someday."