May 2023 marks the 69th year of the US Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, which declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional. This momentous decision revolutionized the American education system and became a beacon of hope for Black student achievement, a promise still reverberating today.
The decision in 1954 dismantled the fallacious concept of “separate but equal,” which allowed states to construct racially segregated education systems that were never “equal.” The court’s verdict was clear: separating Black children from White children damaged the Black children, implying their inferiority and perpetuating racial prejudices. It was clear that these segregated public school systems did not provide financial support to the Black segregated schools at the same levels as the White segregated schools, including teachers as well as access to books, other supplies, and other necessary tools. By declaring racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional, the Supreme Court ignited a movement towards inclusivity, equality, and opportunity for all, irrespective of race.
In the years following Brown vs. Board of Education, Black students in desegregated schools grew exponentially, and the achievement gap began to close. Black students had better access to more resources, higher-quality education, and broader opportunities. By the 1970s and 80s, standardized test scores showed that the performance gap between Black and White students began to narrow considerably. This period of desegregation and improved educational attainment, known as the “Golden Age” of Black student achievement, demonstrated the powerful impact of equal access to education.
Despite significant progress, however, disparities continued to persist. Schools today remain plagued by de facto segregation, resource inequality, and continued systemic racism. Challenges like the school-to-prison pipeline, where students from disadvantaged backgrounds are disproportionately funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems, continue to disproportionately affect Black students.
Our collective responsibility is to ensure the continuation of the gains achieved through Brown vs. Board of Education and the principle of equal educational opportunity.
Today states like Florida are challenging the legacy of Brown vs. Board of Education by introducing measures to ban certain books from schools and outlaw the teaching of the truth of our nation’s history. These initiatives, veiled as “political neutrality,” undermine the spirit of Brown vs. Board of Education by threatening academic freedom and the accurate representation of our nation’s complex, and diverse history.
Our collective responsibility is to ensure the continuation of the gains achieved through Brown vs. Board of Education and the principle of equal educational opportunity. The banning of books and the erasure of Black history are not simply measures that strip students of learning opportunities—they are an affront to the strides made in the fight for equality and justice.
The fight against educational inequality, spearheaded by the Brown vs. Board of Education decision, is not over. This rising wave of laws seeking to ban books and censor historical truths merely echoes past and existing racism. At the Los Angeles Urban League, we see the call to action ringing loud and clear for all of us: to stand against such regressive measures, to ensure our educational systems reflect the truth of the tapestry of our nation’s history, both good and bad, and to strive towards the equality that was their vision when the Justices of the Supreme Court made their landmark decision in 1954. It is a call to keep the promise of Brown vs. Board of Education alive, and it is a call to ensure that we continue to strive for an educational system that is unbiased and equally accessible to all.