Topeka Commemorating 70th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education Ruling

TOPEKA — Jeff Tully, a Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Park interpreter, highlighted how Kansas became an anti-slavery state upon joining the union in 1861. However, within a brief span of less than twenty years, a state law was enacted allowing cities with over 15,000 residents to segregate elementary schools.

Remaining in effect from 1879 until the 1950s, this law impacted Topeka’s youngest children, retaining its place in the legal framework for decades.

Speaking on the Kansas Reflector podcast, Tully emphasized the contradiction that existed in Kansas, stating, “This was the state that wrote in our Constitution, ‘We forbid slavery.’ Yet, 20 years later, we’ll start segregating African American kids in primary schools.”

At the national historical site in Monroe Elementary School, Lawson Nwakudo, another National Park Service interpreter, underlined the impact of a peculiar state law and the presence of exceptional Black-only schools in Topeka that drew the attention of the NAACP. The NAACP aimed to demonstrate to the U.S. Supreme Court the harm inherent in the “separate but equal” system and the necessity of dismantling segregated classrooms across the nation.

Discussing the educators in Topeka’s Black elementary schools, Nwakudo pointed out, “Not only were these educators incredible, but they’re actually more educated than their white counterparts.” He emphasized the strategic focus on Kansas by the NAACP due to the level of equality present in Topeka, indicating that a flaw identified in Kansas would imply broader implications.

The Brown v. Board of Education case culminated in the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision on May 17, 1954, declaring state-sanctioned segregation in public schools as a violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Washburn University in Topeka is set to commemorate the 70th anniversary of this significant legal decision by presenting the play “Now Let Me Fly” on May 17 at 7 p.m. in White Concert Hall. The play explores the journey of heroes and heroines in the fight for educational equality. Admission is free, and online ticket registration is available at www.70thanniversarybrowncoalition.org or by calling 785-506-7768.

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