• IDRA Newsletter • November- December 2003
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.
The Latino Pursuit for Excellence and Equity in U.S. Public Schools: Mendez (1946) and Brown (1954) – Today and Beyond
Conference Roundtable Discussions Summary
|Advocacy and Coalition Building
|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.|
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[©2003, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November- December 2003 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]