Historic race equity figure dies—why the progress toward education excellence does not

MnEEP remembers the 3rd grade African American girl—Linda Brown—who changed history of race equity. School segregation told her she had no value. Her family said otherwise and the US Supreme Court ended the false “separate but equal” legal doctrine in 1954.

Several families joined the case to argue that their children were not allowed to enroll in the nearby school because of their race, despite living in an integrated neighborhood. As a result, black children had to walk, often on unsafe terrain and across busy streets, and take a bus miles to the school that welcomed them. Often, the schools to which they arrived did not have the supplies that provided a quality education.

In 1979, Linda Brown, now with her own children in Topeka schools, became a plaintiff in a resurrected version of Brown, which still had the same title. Topeka Capital-Journal archives indicate the plaintiffs sued the school district for not following through with desegregation.

Later, Brown said, “By [my children] going to an integrated school, they are advancing much more rapidly than I was at the age that they are now. … And I think that children are relating to one another much better these days because of integration.”

While Brown v. Board ended legal school segregation, the full promise of integration has not been seen yet.

In our 2016 State of Students of Color and American Indian Students Report, we open with the concept of “education debt”:

In 2006, renowned scholar Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings gave her presidential address at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association annual conference. Ladson-Billings challenged her colleagues in education research to “reconceptualize this notion of the achievement gap and to begin to think about the incredible education debt we, as a nation, have accumulated”. Specifically, Ladson-Billings’ describes the “educational debt” as a logical outcome due to the construction and compilation of historical, economic, sociopolitical, and moral decisions and policies that have structurally and systematically shaped institutions. Thus, schools are mediums through which inequality is manifested.

We celebrate the historic court decision to make racial segregation in schools illegal, and we pause to remember the student and her experience that propelled this change. We also continue to fight today to pay off the debt that she and generations since hers keep paying as a result of historical decisions and policies.

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