ROSE NOLEN: Journey after desegregation has been slow and rocky, but also steady

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:33 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 13, 2014

It was May 17, 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional.

The 9-0 decision by the court overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896, which allowed state-sponsored segregation as it applied to public education. This policy held that as long as these separate facilities for the separate races were equal, segregation did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. The new decision found that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.

It was a long time coming, but it finally arrived. Unfortunately, segregation had stayed around so long that it had become the custom. It had its own language and its own tradition. It refused to die overnight.

After the desegregation of the schools, we felt surely that equality in education would take hold. Then we discovered that it would take more time. Ultimately, the Civil Rights Act passed, and we felt the chains would finally fall away. Little did we know what a strong hold racism has on people.

The last thing I expected a few years ago, was that the American people would elect an African American for president of the United States. And certainly I did not expect a law school graduate with a wife who is also a law school graduate would be their choice.

I had a minister at one time, who always asked those of us in the congregation if we were ready for “the full meat of the gospel.” We, of course, hoped that we were. We always learned later that it required a great deal more. Most days, I like to think I was always trying to get better.

In any case, most of us Americans who have lived under a few presidents, have liked some better than others. Fortunately, we have been good citizens through them all. But we also realize that some Americans are not capable of tolerating people they do not like and must be rude and disrespectful, if not to them, then about them.

In future years, there will probably be other African-American presidents. Hopefully, most people will have grown with experience. Some will not always be racists; some will become better people.

I’m glad that we have come this far. I’m thrilled that young Americans, black and white, will not have to live through the past that we have experienced.

Let's go forward, full speed ahead. We've come too far to turn back now.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or emailing her at

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