When Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was decided in 1954, our nation had hope for racial equality in its public education system. Brown was combined with four other class-action lawsuits, litigated by the NAACP, all demanding to end legal school segregation and overturn the “separate but equal” 1896 Supreme Court ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson. Thurgood Marshall served as the attorney for the plaintiffs who were all Black women, save for one. Their names are Lena Carper, Sadie Emanuel, Zelma Henderson, Lucinda Todd, and Oliver Brown whose daughter, Linda, became the face and name of the case. We must remember and highly regard the resilient young students and their families who dared to break the color barrier established in the “whites only” schools when they were met with scrutiny, derision, retaliation, and threats from thousands of racist bigots who despaired at segregation's end. On May 17th, it will have been 67 years since Brown passed through the Supreme Court! Today, Downstage Arts takes a look at where Brown currently stands in our society.
In ”Brown at 60: Great Progress, a Long Retreat, and an Uncertain Future”, the paper’s four authors reveal their discovery that American racial integration has lost much of the ground it gained over the past six decades. As their study unfolds, their investigation determines the main facets that define and continue to contribute to school segregation. Perhaps what was most unsettling to read in their research is that white supremacists have been largely successful in reversing our country's school integration progress. Our society has regressed. They write, “The reality is that segregation has been increasing since l990, for almost a quarter century, and that today black students are substantially more segregated than they were in l970. The direction of change, however, suggests that things will continue to worsen.” The researchers elaborate: if you’re a white student, you probably attend a school that is predominantly white. And it’s the same for Black, Latino, and Asian students.
Additionally, a family’s social class largely dictates whether their children will attend a well funded school or not. The same study informs us that in “schools that are 81–100% black & Latino, over three-quarters of the students are also enrolled in schools where more than 70% of the students live in poverty. In fact, half of students in 91–100% black & Latino schools are in schools that also have more than 90% low-income students.” Low-income schools that lack proper funding encompass many issues that negatively affect everyone involved. Economically disadvantaged students are more likely to have higher absent rates due to improper healthcare, and the teacher to student ratio is smaller than at predominantly white schools.
If you are a disadvantaged student who has missed several days of school, at what point do you lose motivation to catch up on your workload? Also, with fewer faculty, how are teachers expected to help students who fall behind when the numbers of students in their classes are already stressful and challenging? How can children in poverty learn at the same pace and function as more privileged children in affluent areas when teachers are not paid fair salaries; when teachers are swamped with disproportionately larger class sizes; and the schools lack of many resources such as textbooks, desks, technology, sanitation products, and sometimes something as small as printer ink, like this teacher reports? It’s not like teachers are paid more when they have to teach larger class sizes with fewer resources!
How did we get here and what happened to the historical landmark case? It’s possible that most of us white folks think of it as just that—a historical landmark case, which shows yet another side of our white privilege that we must dismantle. Private schools have added to another layer into this matter—but more on that next week. I think we came to rely on Brown as the cure for school segregation. But Brown, while monumental, was just a seed we sowed and failed to maintain. If Brown was a plant, it would be dried up, void of care, and sunshine. How will we get Brown back to a flourishing, blooming, well-watered piece of legislation?
America’s education system was not built with BIMPOC students in mind. Our country evolves, and we are doing a large disservice to so many of our children by not creating new and bold laws that address new and old problems. If many of our country’s students are not getting equal educations, how can we expect to see changes at the university level and beyond? These are questions we are actively trying to address and solve at DSA with our mission and programming. We hope you’ll continue to follow along with us on our journey.