Impact of 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board

May 17 marks the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board. Derek Black, a professor of education, civil rights and constitutional law at the University of South Carolina, is among the leading U.S. scholars on the landmark decision. Black can address a host of topics related to decision.

Below is Black’s take on various aspects of the Brown v. Board and the 60th anniversary.

Historical importance of Brown v. Board“Brown has a singular importance in our society. It is the turning point for race in our country. Prior to Brown, we had segregation from top to bottom in society, and Brown, although it didn’t change things the next day, it certainly created a symbolism and idea of change that allowed for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. All of these areas of the law that changed society really stemmed from Brown v. Board of Education, when the court said separate schools are inherently unequal.”

The positive outcomes of Brown v. Board“I’d say all changes are positive. We saw levels of minority students attending predominantly white schools and a number of white students attending black schools go up drastically in the south. Prior to Brown, less than one percent of African American children attended integrated schools. Once desegregation really started, for about 10 years we saw percentages of African American children attending integrated schools rise to about 40 percent. So, we really went from zero to 40 percent in a relatively short period. That’s an enormously important change. It changed opportunities for these children to have for the rest of their lives.”

“Now, we’ve backslid unfortunately over the past three decades, but we’ve certainly made lots of progress, and some of that progress is lasting. It’s changed our concept of equality—so even if we can’t reach it every day in school, we certainly have a commitment to equality we didn’t have before Brown.”

Desegregation as a mixed bag of successes“There’s a mixed bag with school desegregation. One of the greatest losses we experienced with school desegregation was that tens of thousands of African American teachers lost their jobs. The students might have been welcome, but the minority principals and teachers were not.”

“It was quite hostile. We have what we call second generation discrimination. We saw segregation within classrooms—the buildings might have been integrated, but classrooms were segregated. We saw differential discipline in schools and we see that carried out today with the school to prison pipeline, so it’s not all roses when we talk desegregation.”

State of integration today“By the late 80s we see a series of decisions by the Supreme Court saying it’s time to end mandatory busing and reassignment of students. And, since those decisions in the late 80s and early 90s, we’ve seen the number fall off of schools mandated to integrate. Each year that number gets smaller and smaller. To the extent we see integration occurring now we see mostly voluntary efforts by school districts, not by court order.”“We’ve seen African American and Latino students today in schools be nearly as segregated as they were in the late 60s when desegregation started to take off.”

Why Brown v. Board matters today“Well, it matters because unfortunately, racial composition of schools affects who is willing to teach there, who is willing to send kids there -- whether they be African American, white or latino parents. Middle income parents are looking for the best education for their kids. But, if they go to a school and see that it’s struggling with resources, teachers or discipline, they’re not going to go there. As a result, those schools end up remaining predominantly poor for those students, whereas, if those same students were dispersed in middle income schools with effectively managed resources, we’d see better outcomes for those students.”