The recent scandal around L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s publicized racist comments is a reminder of the racism that was once institutionalized in America decades ago. The public’s visceral reaction is also a reminder of how far the country has come in regards to fighting social injustices.
In 1951, Oliver Brown, whose daughter Linda had to walk six blocks to ride the bus to her segregated black school one mile away, while a local white school was just seven blocks from her house, joined the NAACP Kansas chapter and accepted the challenge of taking on institutionalized racism via a class-action lawsuit against the Topeka, Kansas Board of Education. The lower-level courts ruled in favor of the school districts and the case was eventually appealed to the U.S. Supreme court, where the initial decision was overturned. May 17, 1954 marked the day that the Supreme Court judges ruled by unanimous decision, that the separation of children in public schools on the basis of race was unconstitutional.
Segregation in schools brought upon many cultural problems aside from the obvious promotion of racial inequality. Sociologists attribute achievement gaps between races to segregation. The perception at the time of the Supreme Court ruling was that segregated schools attended by African Americans lacked adequate resources that hindered educational development.
Social research indicates that after the desegregation of schools, African American students who attended racially mixed schools showed positive trends in academic achievement and long-term professional development.
Desegregation also had its challenges, which are still evident today. According to a 2004 Columbia University study completed at Brown v. Board of Education’s golden anniversary, challenges were persistent for decades following the Supreme Court ruling. “Public schools faced enormous challenges during the late 1970s as educators tried to facilitate racial integration amid a society that remained segregated in terms of housing, social institutions, and often employment."
The banning of legal separation of students on the grounds of race facilitated social change and awareness among students, and undoubtedly changed America. Challenges remain, however. There are still gaps in test scores, income, and class sizes, as well as the “white flight," which effectively re-segregated many schools when a high number of Caucasian families left urban areas and school districts.
The Columbia study stresses the social impact of Brown v. Board of Education. A white Austin High School graduate discussed the impact of desegregation on the development of his views on race. “Growing up in a racially-integrated school, I think, was invaluable for me," he said. “I just feel … it helped my people skills. It gave me the ability to relate to just about any person and feel good … and to be sincere, not putting on an act … I can’t put enough value on it."
Gamoran, A., & An, B. (2005, August 1). Effects of School Segregation and School Resources in a Changing Policy Context. Retrieved May 16, 2014, from California Center for Popular Research (CCPR).
Stuart Wells, Amy , Jennifer Jellison Holme, Anita Tijerina Revilla, and Awo Korantemaa Atanda. "How Desegregation Changed Us: The Effects of Racially Mixed Schools on Students and Society." Retrieved May 16, 2014 from Columbia University.
Brown Case - Brown v. Board. (n.d.). Brown Foundation. Retrieved May 16, 2014, from Brown Foundation.
Ifill, S. (2014, May 15). Sixty years after 'Brown v. Board of Education,' the fight goes on. msnbc.com. Retrieved May 16, 2014, from MSNBC.