On May 17, 1954, at 12:52 p.m. the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision that sending children to separate public schools for no reason other than race was unconstitutional and violated the 14th Amendment. Brown vs. Board of Education changed education in this country.
Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas struck down the philosophical notion of separate but equal public institutions. It meant that to separate people by race in public institutions or deny them access to those institutions because of race was unconstitutional.
Eight years before the Brown decision, Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez were fighting for a place for Latino children in California classrooms. In Mendez vs. Westminster, the court ruled that “a paramount requisite in the American system of education is social equality,” a decision that would lay the groundwork for Brown vs. Board of Education.
Earl Warren was governor of California at the time. He signed legislation prohibiting segregation in the state, giving equal rights to all students. He would later become chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in time to hear the Brown case.
Thurgood Marshall was the prosecuting attorney in Brown vs. Board of Education. He filed briefs in the Mendez case for the NAACP. Briefs were also filed by the American Jewish Congress, the National Lawyer’s Guild, and the Japanese American Citizens League.
These two landmark decisions serve as a basis for the challenges our nation continues to face to ensure that every child receives the best education possible no matter who, when or whatever circumstances may affect their lives.
This year begins preparation for the 50th anniversary of that ruling. The President has established the Brown vs. Board of Education 50th Anniversary Commission to commemorate this event by raising public awareness. Several national programs are being held around the United States to highlight critical aspects of the impact of Brown on this nation.
In October, the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), co-sponsored a summit of key stakeholders in the education of Latino youth in the United States. Other sponsors were the commission and the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research.
The summit theme was “The Latino Pursuit for Excellence and Equity in U.S. Public Schools: Mendez (1946) and Brown (1954) – Today and Beyond.” The goal of the event was to create a dialog on the implications of Brown vs. Board of Education for Latino students in the public schools of the United States that will catalyze a national action agenda for reform.
Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, IDRA executive director, presented opening remarks. She discussed three critical foundations to make good on the promise of Brown, Mendez, Lau and Plylar: keep the public in public education, press for accountable schools, and fund schools for the common good. See the text of her presentation.
Roundtables were used to engage education stakeholders in discussions about key issues and challenges in realizing the spirit of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision. Education stakeholders were divided into eight roundtables depending on their role in the community: school board members, superintendents, educators, community representatives, university presidents, civil rights lawyers, business leaders, and members of the media. A summary of their discussions is in the box on below.
More than 200 people participated representing these sectors and perspectives. This is essential since a school is, at heart, a community institution. To build on the promise of Mendez and Brown, we must be sure that a community is at the table. For those who are not yet at the table, it is IDRA’s intention to extend the dialogue outward.
Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at
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The Latino Pursuit for Excellence and Equity in U.S. Public Schools: Mendez (1946) and Brown (1954) – Today and Beyond
Conference Roundtable Discussions Summary
The following is a synthesis of the notes presented to the whole group by each roundtable and the themes that emerged from the roundtable discussions.
Advocacy and Coalition Building
- Organize to join forces with other advocacy groups.
- Create a coalition of all professional education associations.
- Expand on the efforts of school board associations like the Mexican American School Boards Association.
- Build a meaningful grassroots engagement campaign scaffolded on relevant campaigns being developed across the nation among community members, educators, businesses, and parents.
- Position the voice of business leadership to speak up for education quality, equity, and growth. Business summits should be held regarding school finance and importance of equity. Alliances should be built across school districts.
- Engage business, government and community organizations in education for a global society.
- Partner with non-profit organizations and business communities.
- Empower internal and external communities to partner with schools to provide a quality education for all students.
- Create a possible business advisory structure where businesses can register specific concerns and meet with superintendents and school boards. There should be systematic periodic surveys and measures to decipher the needs of the business community.
- Provide fair, equitable and excellent facilities for all districts.
- Provide funding for language acquisition programs that meet the demands of our global society and promote the benefits of diversity.
- Provide access to quality education beginning with early childhood education funding.
- Monitor and take action on those initiatives that value education.
- Ensure greater alignment with K-12 institutions and higher education institutions that impacts teacher and administrative education.
- Systematize teaching and learning, pre-kindergarten to grade 16 in best practices, i.e., constructivist modeldual language.
- Work on alternative certification for lay people. Connect the classroom to the real world. Teacher credentialing should present persons with talents – mathematicians, engineers, and retired military.
- Continue at all levels to believe in the importance of teachers and to champion investment in teacher education and in teachers as professionals. Provide equitable professional development.
- Ensure accountability is based on multiple indicators that can include assessment.
- Maintain focus on accountability and its original purpose and ensure that no segment of the school population is penalized unfairly.
- Explain that accountability is necessary and that its application must be useful and appropriate rather than punitive and mechanistic.
- Institutionalize accountability that is culturally sensitive.
- Have education stakeholders create awareness in the community.
- Reach out to the community and equip the community to speak and shape media coverage.
- Touch more people with information.
- Work with the media to the benefit of the community.
- Share ideas, programs and successes beyond school districts.
|This event was sponsored by the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) along with the Brown vs. Board of Education 50th Anniversary Commission, and the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research on October 9-10, 2003.|