50th Anniversary of Brown -V- Board of Education
May 19, 2004
This month, southern Nevadans are marking the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the historic U.S.
Supreme Court decision that led to the desegregation of our public schools.
When the U.S. Supreme Court declared what we all knew to be true-"In the field of public education, the doctrine of separate but equal has no place"- it honored our highest values as Americans, the values of equality, liberty, and individual rights. Brown confirmed the futility of segregation, recognized the inherent injustice of judging people based on race and acknowledged at long-last, that diversity is our strength as a nation.
The Brown decision helped ignite a movement that within a decade led to the largest demonstration for social justice in American history - Dr. King's 1963 March on Washington. And on that day, Dr. King spoke of "the fierce urgency of now." "Now," he said, "is the time to make justice a reality for all God's children."
Today, half a century after the Court's decision in Brown, we must focus on reforming and improving our public
schools by increasing federal assistance to America's local school districts. Never has our nation been confronted with the task of teaching so much, to so many, while reaching for new, higher standards. Too many poor and minority children are still concentrated in schools that fail to prepare them for the future.
We must fully fund the No Child Left Behind Act to give schools the resources they need to improve performance, and to ensure that a lack of resources does not close the door to higher education. And we must pass a budget that keeps faith with those most in need by funding disadvantaged schools, students with special needs, after-school programs and bilingual education.
As we mark the anniversary of the landmark decision in Brown, the role of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall cannot be overlooked. From 1940 to 1961, Marshall served as Legal Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Under his leadership, the NAACP fought to abolish segregation in
schools and challenged laws that discriminated against African Americans.
Beginning with the case of Chambers v. Florida in 1940, Marshall argued 32 cases before the Supreme Court and won 29 of them, earning more Supreme Court victories than any other individual. In 1954, Marshall argued Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court, which overturned the 1896 "Separate but equal"decision in Plessy v. Ferguson and opened the door for complete integration of America's classrooms.
During the 24 years he served as a member of the United States Supreme Court, Justice Marshall promoted affirmative action and sought protection for the rights of all Americans. And while he continued to support integration, he also
championed the rights of women, children, and the homeless.
In honor of this legacy and a lifetime of work to ensure liberty and justice for all Americans, I am cosponsoring
legislation to award Thurgood Marshall a Congressional Gold Medal. Given his role in arguing the Brown case before the U.S. Supreme Court, it would be a fitting tribute for this medal to be awarded to Justice Marshall at a time when we are marking the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision to throw open the doors of public education to all children, regardless of race.
As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Brown, let us imagine what the 75th and100th anniversary celebrations could look like if we meet our responsibility to improve public education in this country.
Let us imagine a celebration in which a discussion of unequal education is a history lesson, not current events. Let us imagine a celebration in which progress is not qualified by the words "yet," "however," and "still." And let us imagine
a celebration in a country that stands together as one America, giving every child the chance to realize his or her full potential through the best possible education. How we educate their minds and shape their values now will impact our nation for decades to come.