Event marks 50th Brown anniversary

    Marking the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, education rights attorney Mary T. Hernandez argued that resegregation has occurred over the past decade in public schools in a May 14 lecture sponsored by Earl Warren College.

    Warren College Provost David Jordan preceded Hernandez’s speech by emphasizing the importance of the case to American history and to the college’s own namesake.

    “No event is more significant than the Brown v. Board of Education decision in [Earl Warren’s] Supreme Court justice tenure,” Jordan said. “It was little short of a miracle … and it really placed him firmly on the national political map as a major figure in 20th-century American history.”

    Hernandez described the evolution of the historical “separate but equal” doctrine, which was upheld in 1896 with Plessy v. Ferguson and used to segregate whites and blacks in public settings. In 1954, the Warren Court declared the doctrine unconstitutional in the Brown case and called for the desegregation of public schools “with all deliberate speed.”

    “The only problem with the decision was that it didn’t specify how you would implement this,” Hernandez said. “We have this wonderful statement that ‘separate and equal’ can’t happen [and] you have to integrate, [but] how do we … force districts who don’t want to [integrate] to do it? And that became the challenge.”

    Yet Hernandez also argued that other racial groups besides blacks were affected by segregation laws.

    “The fact of the matter is, it was never simply a black-white issue,” Hernandez said. “It was, in many senses, a white issue against everybody else. In California, it was part of our law … that we were able to have separate schools for persons of Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Mongolian descent. If you established those schools, those children were not permitted to go to any other school than that school.”

    Hernandez went on to discuss the histories of several other pertinent legal cases, including the 1974 case of Lau v. Nichols, in which the San Francisco school district was sued on the basis that it denied educational opportunities to Chinese students who did not speak English.

    Hernandez argued that the trend over the past decade has been moving toward re-segregating public schools, partly due to public apathy on the issue of integration, she said.

    “The will to integrate is partly gone,” Hernandez said. “I think in order to have integrated schools, we really have to make it a high priority, policy-wise.”

    According to Hernandez, many middle school students in Oceanside, Calif., are sent to a special school if they are seen to be falling behind academically. The particular school they are sent to is the “most racially isolated high school there,” with students of color constituting about 85 percent of the population. Hernandez also said that many schools are segregated by income distribution, resulting in schools with fewer qualified teachers and fewer resources.

    “The racially identifiable schools that are white are much more likely to be middle-class or affluent,” Hernandez said. “The schools that are segregated that are more identifiable with African-American or Latino students are more likely to be in concentrations of poverty … so you start out with the fact that [the schools] are separate and unequal.”

    Ramon Aldecoa, assistant dean of student affairs for Warren college, said that unequal access to higher education, whether from class or race, is still a problem today.

    “What’s interesting is that historically, the first desegregation cases came in higher education settings,” Aldecoa said. “Now here we are, finding ourselves … completely on the other side … I believe that we should have an opportunity to reevaluate how we’re accessing people to higher education because we see that it’s just not working.”

    The majority of students who attended the event were from Warren college.

    “It was really interesting hearing the progress that local schools have made, or the lack of progress,” Warren senior Carolyn Lertzman said. “The media portrays progress in segregation … but it seems as if there’s still a long way to go.”

    Warren senior Tri Nguyen emphasized the importance of remembering the Brown decision.

    “I think a lot of people ignore the [Brown] case,” Nguyen said. “A lot of people assume that since we have the Brown decision and so many other laws, schools would be equal, but they’re actually not.”

    Other campus events commemorating the Brown decision include the performance of “The Haunting of Jim Crow” on May 17 and May 19 in Wagner Dance Building. The play, written by professor Allan Havis of the Department of Theatre and Dance, combines the politics of the Brown case with the life of Sen. Strom Thurmond.

    “I feel that [Brown] created something symbolic and essential for the entire country, and perhaps many countries around the world,” Havis said. “Unfortunately, there are many deplorable actions in the federal and state courts, the practical economy and other concrete factors which erode the impact of [Brown].”

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