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Brown v. Board of Education

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. PRYOR. Mr. President, this week marks the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision that ultimately ended legal segregation in schools and helped catalyze a better education for all of America's children.

This landmark decision was the first significant action by an institution of national government in the struggle for equality.
However, it would be naive to believe that Brown erased the hatred and ignorance that black families faced when testing their rights to a better education. One of the most dramatic examples occurred on September 24, 1957 when President Eisenhower ordered federal troops to Little Rock, AR to allow nine black children, the Little Rock Nine, to attend the all-white Central High School.

Of her experience, Melba Pattillo Beals of the Little Rock Nine recalls: "I had to become a warrior. I had to learn not how to dress the best but how to get from that door to the end of the hall without dying." Her act of courage, and those of the other eight students who integrated Little Rock Central, helped change history for all Americans in a tale that continues to have immediacy.

Another one of those students was Ernest Green, who best explains why the Little Rock Nine sacrificed their innocence for a chance at a better education. He said, "We wanted to widen options for ourselves and later for our children." Mr. Green was the first black student to graduate from Central High School. He later served as Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Affairs under President Jimmy Carter and now serves as the vice president of Lehman Brothers.

Turning opportunity into achievement is what civil rights pioneer Daisy Bates had in mind when she helped the Little Rock Nine break down the barriers that stood between them and an equal education. Despite threats on her life and financial ruin, Daisy Bates made significant strides in the courtroom and increased public awareness through her newspaper.

Mr. President, as a former student of Central High, I can tell you the impact of the Little Rock Nine is still felt in the hearts of its student body and teachers past and present. In 2007, Central High will commemorate the 50th anniversary of its desegregation crises. The National Park Service plans to build the Little Rock Central High School Visitors Center in time for this watershed anniversary, and I will be urging my colleagues to support funding for this endeavor later this year.

What we know today is that children all over America have the right to learn-whether their ancestors came to America on slave ships or the Mayflower. What we know today is that we all benefit when we learn together and work together for a common purpose. What we know today is there are more black doctors, lawyers, judges and elected officials than ever before. What we know today is that there is more equality and more opportunity for all children.

But what we don't know, what we still question is whether we have really achieved the inclusion, equality and diversity in our schools that the Court intended when it struck down the "separate but equal" doctrine and required the desegregation of schools across America. I do not believe we have met the promise of Brown yet.

I am concerned that many public schools in Arkansas and around the country remain segregated by race and class, still unequal in regard to performance and resources. Today, a fourth-grade Hispanic child is only one-third as likely to read at the same level as a fourth grade white child. Only fifty percent of African-Americans are finishing high school, and only 18 percent are graduating from college.

We must do better, and President Bush and the Congress can do better by keeping the promises made to parents and students when it passed the No Child Left Behind Act. We must live up to this promise, and provide every child access to a quality public education. Daisy Bates, the Little Rock Nine and countless civil rights leaders did not endure hardship and sacrifice for us to fail now.

Mr. President, on this landmark anniversary, let us stand together to celebrate how far we have come. But let us also acknowledge the problems that stand in the way to a better education for all children. And let us commit ourselves to preparing our children for today's expectations and tomorrow's challenges.

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