Brown vs. Board of Education: A Personal Reflection
Although I was not born until three years after the historic decision of 1954, I have benefited from it nevertheless. I am a native of Charlotte, N.C. with vivid recollection of the stories told to me by my parents of the segregated lifestyle endemic to the South. Dad recounted how they banded together to guard the local black doctor's home one night when word leaked that the KKK was planning a visit. Mom spoke of going "uptown" to the square on Saturday afternoon and purchasing a hot sandwich from the counter in the rear of the local eatery. At age 72, she still recalls the embarrassed and saddened look on her father's face when she, as a child, overheard a white man say something akin to "Jim is a good boy," despite that the man was considerably younger than my grandfather.
The Brown decision, in my estimation, was the juggernaut that began the assault on legalized segregation in this country. It paved the way for the dismantling of government-sanctioned segregation and discrimination in many other areas. By gaining victory in this initial arena, it made the other bastions of resistance vulnerable to public criticism and arguments in their defense spurious. Chief Justice Warren and the Court insightfully concluded that "separate [but equal] educational facilities are inherently unequal." At issue was the fact that when the law says that one race (minority) must be separated from another (majority), then it makes a de facto declaration that the minority race is inherently inferior or unworthy of association. Such inane thinking of that day flatly contradicted the intent of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution which guaranteed equal protection under the law.
As an heir of this rich history, I disagree with those who would argue that the 1954 decision has spawned failed social programs such as affirmative action. Our family relocated to Harrisburg, Pa. in 1964 where I officially began my public school education. My inner-city school was predominantly black, and I ranked in the top 10% of the graduating high school class of 480 students. I subsequently gained admission to the University of Virginia, the prestigious and historic institution founded by Thomas Jefferson, becoming the first relative, both paternally and maternally, to graduate from a four-year institution. I have no illusions that were it not for the impetus provided by a mandate to take affirmative steps, I would not have been given consideration by this venerable university.
It took tremendous courage for Rev. Brown to defy the state of Kansas by insisting that his daughter be permitted to attend the nearby school rather than traverse a more precarious route daily to attend the colored school across town. I only hope that as this perpetual fight to establish a true community continues; and that ! exhibit similar courage in affirming and securing the rights provided to me and all citizens of this great nation. When I reflect on the humiliating mores of my parents' era, it compels me to press forward, not for personal aggrandizement, but as a tangible and living expression of my gratitude to them.
Joseph Robinson Jr.