The Fight Continues: Segregation Grows as White House Commemorates Brown v. Board

In a poignant ceremony near the White House, families involved in the landmark Brown v. Board Supreme Court ruling highlighted ongoing racial disparities in the country’s schools while being recognized for their bravery in challenging segregation seven decades ago.

Relatives and NAACP President Derrick Johnson recounted the threats of violence they endured after the ruling that banned the segregation of students based on race.

President Joe Biden held talks with the original plaintiffs’ delegation, around 20 descendants, and NAACP leaders “instrumental in advocating for these and other hard-earned liberties for Black Americans,” as stated by a White House official.

Several family members emphasized the ongoing struggle to fulfill the vision of providing equal education for all as promised by Brown.

“We still have much to accomplish,” Cheryl Brown Henderson, daughter of Oliver Brown, the case’s namesake plaintiff, stated after the Oval Office meeting. “We are still grappling with whose children we prioritize.”

During their private meeting, family members urged the President to persist in that effort and back Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). President Biden expressed gratitude for their courage in resisting Jim Crow laws and segregation, which sometimes meant risking “your life, your job, your home,” according to Brown Henderson.

Families toured the White House before their meeting with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office (Marianna McMurdock)

At least one family who litigated had their house burned down in South Carolina. Many others suffered job losses, compounding the economic challenges faced by Black families striving to accumulate wealth less than a century after slavery was abolished.

One descendant proposed the idea of establishing a national holiday to commemorate the pivotal court ruling to ensure its legacy and significance endure.

“We have yet to fully actualize the promise of Brown,” noted NAACP President Derrick Johnson, warning that the teaching of “accurate” history is under threat in various states. The NAACP recently sued Arkansas for its “anti-indoctrination” law and alleged discrimination against Advanced Placement African American Studies courses.

“The battle continues,” Johnson stressed. “It is a political, legal, and moral struggle to ensure a future that reflects today’s demographics and not those of 1950.”

This week, researchers from Stanford University and University of Southern California unveiled disconcerting findings showing a consistent rise in school segregation over the past three decades. Experts advocate for urgent reforms in how students are assigned to schools; currently, four states mandate, and almost all allow, districts to enforce attendance zones based on historic racist housing or sundown town boundaries from nearly a century ago.

Family members criticized the media for inadequately reporting on the obstacles to implementing Brown and the racial disparities in education present in schools today. They also voiced dissatisfaction with the administration’s allocation of funds, particularly in defense spending compared to education priorities. President Biden recently authorized a $1 billion arms sale for Israel and approved a $95 billion war measure to aid Ukraine, Taiwan, and other nations.

“The reality of education in America? Are children from Indian reservations… in West Virginia, or in my mother’s hometown in South Carolina, receiving quality education? I would say no. Challenge me on this,” Nathaniel Briggs, the son of the plaintiff in Briggs v. Elliot, stated. “We are willing to invest millions to purchase aircraft and weapons but not in education.”

Nathaniel Briggs, son of the plaintiff in Briggs v. Elliot, which led to the end of school segregation in South Carolina, called for better media coverage of education disparities and a reevaluation of Washington’s spending priorities. (Marianna McMurdock)

The ceremony on Thursday marked the beginning of a series of events by the NAACP and the White House commemorating the anniversary. Tomorrow, on the 70th anniversary of the court’s ruling, the President will deliver remarks at the African American Smithsonian.

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