Fifty years later, the ruling seems fixed in American ideology: separate is not equal.
But panelists at a forum discussing the landmark 1954 decision Brown v. Board of Education said achieving the Supreme Court’s vision will require focus — not on segregated education or integrated education, but education itself.
More than 40 law students and professors attended a panel Tuesday on “The Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education,” listening to three perspectives on the impact of the Brown verdict.
MU law professor Pamela Smith said technology — specifically cyberschools that deliver instruction via the Internet — can be used to realize the promise of Brown.
Smith, whose area of expertise includes e-commerce and technology law, cited studies showing racial stereotypes continued to form teachers’ and students’ attitudes toward minorities’ intellect after the Brown ruling, resulting in segregation within schools.
“What we know and have known since Brown versus the Board of Education — and the studies have been fairly consistent — is that a teacher will not waste his or her time on a child that they deem intellectually inferior,” Smith said.
Cyberschools give children a greater chance of interacting with teachers without identifying students’ race, which could shield children from receiving racial messages, she said.
“I argue that cyber schools will actually achieve for us what Brown didn’t,” Smith said. “It will allow our children, regardless of where they reside, to focus on their education. And it will also recognize what we in society didn’t recognize in Brown versus the Board of Education: that unconscious/conscious racial bias affects all of us. And that includes our future.”
Smith’s comments followed a brief video on the historical developments leading to the Brown ruling. According to the video, the case originated with a group of black students in Prince Edward County, Va. The students contacted the NAACP to aid their effort to press the Virginia school board to build a better school for black students. The NAACP advised fighting for integration instead.
After two years, four other cases signed on to the lawsuit, which collectively became known as Brown v. Board of Education.
MU Deputy Chancellor Michael Middleton said although the court ruled in favor of Brown, people failed to recognize the problems in education were too deep to be resolved only by declaring schools integrated.
A society founded upon the oppression of an identifiable section of the population does not easily purge itself of the pervasive myths that maintain that system, Middleton said.
He said though he did not know the full solution to the issues raised by Brown, providing quality education to all children, regardless of race, is part of the answer. He implored the panel audience to hurry in identifying possible solutions to the academic and economic disparities that exist in the nation.
“The court did its job,” he said. “We didn’t do our job to follow up on that (ruling) and make sure it works.”
Panelist Eliot Battle said overall, Columbia Public Schools integrated smoothly after Brown. Battle worked in guidance counseling at Hickman High for more than 30 years and at the district office for four.
He reminisced about his own experiences in segregated education as a student and, later as principal of Dalton High School, which served black students from 11 Missouri counties.
Now retired after serving as special assistant to the Columbia College president, Battle said when he looks at Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools, he still perceives “separateness” among students.
“One would think that from 1960 to 2004, friendships would have bonded so interracially in larger numbers, that it would not seem like there were two different schools within one,” he said.