Marking the 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education
By Congressman Alcee L. Hastings
On May 17, 2014, our nation marks the 60th anniversary of the historic U.S. Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision, which overturned 58 years of “separate but equal” jurisprudence that had been established by Plessy v. Ferguson. The “separate but equal” doctrine upheld state laws requiring racial segregation in public facilities. However, while African Americans and other people of color were effectively detached from white commerce, the resources and infrastructure made available to Blacks were far from equal. From using different entrances to being forced to sit at the back of the bus, our history shows that we have certainly come a long way.
Brown v. Board of Education was a landmark decision for the Civil Rights Movement and a turning point for our nation. It served as the watershed for a number of Supreme Court decisions that eventually increased equality for all Americans of color. Now, access to public facilities can never again be denied on the basis of race. No longer barred from certain schools, today’s children learn how to traverse our diverse world and embrace cultural differences. While the battle over segregation continued for many years afterward, and our nation still today is confronted with many civil rights issues, Brown remains the fulcrum of historical significance that ushered our country to contemporary standards of humanity and compassion.
Yet, as we remember this great achievement, we must keep in mind re-cent shifts in jurisprudence that may drastically affect the social, economic, and political landscape between races in America. In two recent decisions, Shelby County v. Holder (2013) and Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action (2014), the Supreme Court undid much of our nation’s progress, in spite of precedence and recorded acknowledgement of the inequalities and inequities that minorities have endured.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor summarized, reading her dissent from the bench, the burden on minorities not faced by other college applicants. She expressed how fortunate she was to benefit from affirmative action, a success story that has had resounding effects on the nation as a whole. Students from underrepresented parts of the state, athletes, and children of alumni, she said, remained free to try to persuade university officials to give their applications deeper consideration. “The one and only policy a Michigan citizen may not seek through this long-established process,” she wrote, “is a race-sensitive admissions policy.” This difference, in the eyes of Justice Sotomayor, violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause.
It has become quite clear how disillusioned our nation has become with regard to the importance of the advancements we have made as a country. At a time when it would seem that African Americans are finding the footing needed to truly build equity – through access to higher education, increased engagement in the political process, and substantial representation in politics and business, we must be wary of attempts to undo the progress that so many of us fought for over the years.
To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson (D-FL), Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), and I introduced House Resolution 561. We will always remember those who fought in the Civil Rights Movement for the integration of public schools and other public facilities. I believe that we must continue to work together towards a more humane and caring society. Let us build upon Brown and commit ourselves to ensuring equality for all Americans.
Congressman Alcee L. Hastings represents Florida’s 20th district, and serves as Senior Member of the House Rules Committee, Ranking Democratic Member of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and Co-Chairman of the Florida Delegation.