On Wednesday night at the Gaines Oldham Black Culture Center, Dr. Phyllis Chase, superintendent of Columbia Public Schools, addressed an audience of more than 50 people about the lingering impact of the 1954 Brown vs. The Topeka Board of Education court case.
The event was sponsored by MU's Black History Committee and the Gaines Oldham Center. It was part of the two groups' ongoing celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Brown decision. That decision declared the system of segregated public schools in the United States unconstitutional.
"I remember I was four and my parents were so excited," Chase said about the moment when the decision was announced.
She said the case marked a monumental change in America's culture, but noted that the journey preceding and following the decision was a difficult one.
"People threw rocks at children as they tried to enter school," said Chase, who has been Columbia Public School's superintendent since July 2003. She also discussed George Wallace, the former governor of Alabama, who blocked the doors of the University of Alabama to prevent black students from registering in 1963.
Chase said the public school system has had its share of successes and failures since the Brown decision. But she said the important question is: "Should we have hope?"
Chase answered "yes," and told the audience they should look brightly at the future.
"Hope lies in people who have the courage to stand up for what is right," she said. "Hope is found in people who stay in the world and remain hopeful."
Chase answered questions from the audience following her speech. Attendees raised a number of issues, including how to increase the number of African-American teachers, the difference in the quality of Columbia school buildings and school privatization.