The court plainly declared: “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
It was a momentous enough occasion that Edna West Payton, principal of our all-Black Francis Jr. High School in the West End section of D.C., convened an afternoon assembly of ninth-graders in the school auditorium to notify us of the victory over segregation. She tried to alert us, as best she could, to the changes and challenges that awaited us in the upcoming school year — let alone those that would confront us for the rest of our lives.
But 67 years later, the mission of integrating U.S. public schools remains unachieved. Racial inequalities have not been erased — racial and economic divides seem as entrenched as ever. Abject racism and resistance are there, like the air. Witness the renewed assault on voting rights coming from the right. Police violence against Black citizens defines our time.
Still, Brown led to the Montgomery bus boycott, and sit-ins and a civil rights movement that kicked Jim Crow laws in the teeth. The spirit of Brown found life in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which paved the way for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 1968 Fair Housing Act, and the election to state legislatures, Congress and the White House of political leaders who fundamentally changed the color of American public servants.
We should never pass up an opportunity to tell this story. Yet today, the Brown decision remains separated from the news, and — judging from its treatment — unequal in importance, even for a brief moment, to issues that command America’s attention.
What does this treatment of Brown tell us about ourselves?