Los Angeles Times: Its intent was simple, its language unequivocal: "To separate black children from
Los Angeles Times: Its intent was simple, its language unequivocal: "To separate black children from others 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 a way unlikely ever to be undone."
With that declaration 50 years ago this week in Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court struck down laws requiring segregation in public schools. But nothing is ever simple in this country when it comes to race, and the imprint of that landmark ruling on American life is complicated.
In the educational arena, the decision has fallen woefully short of its ambition. School segregation persists. Three-quarters of black and Latino students in this country attend predominantly minority schools today, and their campuses are twice as likely to be overcrowded and have larger classes, less challenging courses and fewer qualified teachers than majority-white schools. On every measurable level, the achievement of black and Latino students lags. But is that a failure of the decree?
Resistance to Brown, after all, was swift, strong and persistent. In some Southern states, schools shut down rather than allow blacks inside. And Northern cities continued their own sub rosa segregation, adjusting campus boundaries along neighborhood lines to keep schools either black or white and directing minority kids into dumbed-down classes. It is easy to judge Brown a failure, but no single legal ruling can undo social, economic and political conditions that conspire to perpetuate educational inequality.
Impact transcends education
In reality, both the causes and consequences of Brown extended far beyond the realm of education, and its legacy reflects that sweep. The ruling was intended to bolster the self-worth of black people, burnish the image of America abroad, create a better-prepared citizenry and a more inclusive society. And if its proponents' hopes have not been fully realized, the fears of its opponents -- who warned that school integration would "break down racial integrity" -- have indeed come to pass. That alone is worth celebrating.
It would have been difficult 50 years ago to envision advancement that would land blacks in the highest ranks of government and at the helm of giant corporations, to imagine cultural changes that would produce black beauty queens, a white rap star and an explosion in interracial relationships so pronounced that census forms need a "multiracial" category.
Perhaps Brown's most important effect was largely symbolic -- an official declaration that the collective vision of this nation rests on the image, no matter how idealistic, of white and black children working side by side.