May 17, 2004
BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION
Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, 50 years ago, a third grade girl named Linda walked a full mile each way to school, crossing through a dangerous railroad switchyard to do it. Only five blocks from her home was a very nice local school, but when her father petitioned for her admission, he was denied.
Because she was not white.
Fortunately, her father would not give up, and because of his tenacity, 50 years later, we can celebrate the landmark decision of Brown v. the Topeka Board of Education.
Since Thurgood Marshall argued his most important case involving over 200 plaintiffs in front of the same bench that he would later sit on, we have made great strides.
We have done away with the ridiculous idea that separate could ever be equal. We have legalized desegregation. Colleges and universities are becoming increasingly more diverse as parents who did not attend college are now able to send their children to institutions of higher education.
But there is so much more still to do. Until children of all backgrounds receive the same quality of teaching, have access to the same quality of learning resources, and graduate from high school and secondary education at the same rate, our work is not finished.
Despite the Supreme Court's declaration in that landmark decision that education "is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms," our country still remains far from providing an equal education to all.
Fortunately, I know we have the ability to change this and to ensure all children a first-rate education. We are the greatest and richest country in the world. We have the ability to make sure that our elementary and secondary schools are the best in the world.
We also need to make sure the doors to higher education remain open for all. We have the best universities and colleges in the world, and students from all over the globe dream about attending college in the U.S.
The result of the University of Michigan case went a long way towards keeping the hope of higher education open to all Americans. While the Brown case defined our parents' era, the current generation's battle is to move beyond the legalization of desegregation and make sure it actually happens, with the help of affirmative action.
I am pleased the Supreme Court upheld the efforts of the University of Michigan to promote diversity in university admissions. Education is the most effective tool and the critical first step to empowerment. Education is the tool that allows students to comprehend the world around them, and provides them the know-how to provide themselves with a superior quality of life.
We need to keep it going. Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund and the first woman admitted to the Mississippi bar, once remarked, "A lot of people are waiting for Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi to come back-but they are gone. We are it. It is up to us. It is up to you."
She is right. It is up to us to continue Dr. King's, Mr. Brown's, and everyone's journey for full equality.