Today marks a watershed moment in American history. But history is still being written.
Sixty-eight years ago today, the US Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional.
Expect politicians and policymakers from both major parties to trumpet Brown v. Board today for its resounding victory over racism.
Don’t, however, expect them to talk about how dogged supporters of segregation were, how they turned to Christian private schools, or “segregation academies,” to subvert the order when literally blocking the doorways didn’t work.
Don’t expect them to bring up how that dogged resistance fed today’s prevalence of school choice options—whether it’s a privately-run charter or a public system’s choice-like programs—and how those options have made it undeniably harder for American schools to move beyond segregation.
Don’t expect them to acknowledge that racial segregation in North Carolina schools still exists. Hindsight is 20/20, they say, but we still need corrective lenses on Brown v. Board of Education.
The ruling is as close to a household name as a court case can get. And one of its principal architect, the late North Carolinian Pauli Murray, is a saint—figuratively and literally—in the racial justice movement.
It is, as they say, “settled case law.”
(Not that that means what it used to. Within hours of a draft decision showing the US Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade going public, a leading figure in the white nationalist movement tweeted: “Next stop Brown vs. Board!”)
Raining on the Parade
We love a good, tidy ending in America, one where the good folks win and the bad folks lose. But this isn’t one of those stories.
Millions of American children attend economically segregated schools today, a trend that began worsening with both the right and the left’s embrace of the charter movement in the 1990s.
And “segregation by income very often moves in tandem with segregation by race,” the Center for American Progress wrote in 2017. “In addition to attending racially segregated schools, black and Latino students are significantly more likely to attend high-poverty schools.”
Or as the California-based Civil Rights Project puts it, “double segregation.”
Many Black and Brown students in eastern North Carolina are familiar with the situation, if not the term. The poorest counties in the state receive significantly less money to educate each student.
These counties don’t have the local tax base to support students at the same rate, and as the long-running Leandro lawsuit in NC can attest, state and federal officials haven’t filled the gaps. It remains to be seen whether NC courts will finally make the GOP lawmakers controlling the state’s budget do something about it.
So while we’ll celebrate the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education today, and we should, do it in the right spirit. Celebrate Brown not as the end of a journey but the beginning, as a triumph of progressive ideas if not execution, willpower, and commitment.
Celebrate it for what it is and not for what we think it is.
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