From Mon May 17 02:45:08 2004
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Subject: wwnews Digest #807
Date: Mon, 17 May 2004 06:30:52 +0000

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Date: Mon, 17 May 2004 00:06:53 -0400
Subject: [WW] Brown vs. Board of Ed: The stormy road we trod

50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education: ‘Stormy the road we trod’

Excerpts from a talk by Dorothea Peacock at a Workers World meeting in Boston on May 5, Workers World, 20 May 2004

The road I'm taking for discussion is the highway to education. The vehicle I'm using to travel along this highway is Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kan., the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in the public schools in the U.S.

May 17 marks the 50th anniversary of the decision. How did the separate but equal doctrine come about?

1896 had marked the passing of the Reconstruction era and the return of the pro-slavocracy government to the Southern states. States' laws were again adopted reminiscent of black codes which had been passed right after the Civil War to keep Black people in their place.

The laws established, enforced by criminal penalties, were based on racial segregation under which members of the Black and white races were required to be separated in facilities including separate schools, parks, waiting rooms, bus and railroad accommodations. Where completely separate facilities proved later on not to be feasible, as in dining cars or passenger coaches, a curtained partition served to separate the races. A fine of $25 or 20 days in jail was the penalty for sitting in the wrong compartment.

[Homer] Plessy, who was one eighth Black by [Louisiana law], refused to vacate a seat in the white compartment of a railway car and was arrested for violating the statue. [Years later] a Howard University student studying the Plessy vs. Ferguson ruling and application became disturbed by this use of this ruling towards education and other unfair laws. This student changed his major the same day to study law and became Attorney Oliver Hill, one of the civil rights lawyers who argued the Brown vs. Board of Education case.

In April 1951 Barbara Johns, a senior at Robert Moton High School in Prince Edward County, Va., led her class on strike to procure better school facilities and publicize the deplorable conditions of the Black school. Had the superintendent complied or tried to make better accommodations, the strike wouldn't have escalated at the school, consisting of a small building which was overcrowded when opened in 1939. To correct this situation the county built a number of tar-paper shacks which had tin stove pipes running from room to room. These pathetic rooms were heated through the use of oil drums acting as stoves. Coal was then burned in the drums. During inclement weather the children changing classes were exposed to rain, mud, cold and ice as they made their way to shacks on campus.

It's understandable why on April 23, 1951 students sought help from the NAACP and the pastor of a local Baptist church. The students also had the help and support of their parents. A meeting was held at the Baptist church with NAACP leaders. After two weeks on strike the students were told that they had made their point and [should] discontinue striking. The leaders also informed the students and parents that from now on the NAACP would be seeking to overturn the Plessy [decision] and have the Supreme Court declare racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

This was the beginning of the presentation of separate desegregation lawsuits. Ten civil rights lawyers argued those cases before nine white judges. The Supreme Court said go back and consolidate similar cases into one single case, which became the Brown vs. Board of Education case. [The other cases mentioned in Chief Justice Earl Warren's opinion of the court, besides the Virginia lawsuit, included Cumming vs. County Board of Education, Gong Lum vs. Rice, Missouri ex rel. Gaines vs. Canada, Sipuel vs. Oklahoma, Sweatt vs. Painter and McLaurin vs. Oklahoma State Regents.]

Fifty years after that decision the Boston Globe has stated that Massach usetts is hyper-segregational beyond regional and national levels. A task force [was established] to discuss neighborhood schools and the quality of them. I was at a meeting among activists, students, parents, teachers, [Boston School] Superin tendent Thomas W. Payzant, school committee and councilors. The theme of the meeting was neighborhood schools and what will make a quality school of your choice. Students were asking for tools which are necessary for an education. Parents, activists and friends sat for two hours poring over needs. The answer was, we have to take these issues to the review board--which will not be considered or take effect for a year and a half!

[A recent] Workers World editorial stated that while winning formal, legal equality was a huge step forward, just like ending colonial rule, it did not end racist oppression any more than neocolonialism has ended the great gap between rich and poor nations. The problem still exists that a small class of super-rich capitalists run this country and the world. They need racism to stay on top just as they need every other tool that divides the workers they exploit. Having advanced this far, however, Black people are in a much stronger position to not only participate in but play a leading role in the next phase of the struggle, which will be for genuine equality of all peoples based on a working-class redistribution of society's wealth--with affirmative action and reparations to eradicate the terrible inequalities inherited from the past.

Stony is the road we trod!