Archive for Monday, May 17, 2004

Civil rights advocates unveil education plan

May 17, 2004


— A national coalition of civil rights groups outlined a plan Monday calling for new investments in public schools and making sure that poor neighborhoods and school districts receive their share of education dollars.

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights said its 12-point initiative will improve schools, promote diversity and attack poverty. The coalition also said its plan would fulfill the promise of the U.S. Supreme Court's historic Brown v. Board of Education decision, which declared school segregation unconstitutional.

The coalition unveiled its package on the 50th anniversary of the Brown decision, and executive director Wade Henderson attended a Statehouse commemoration led by Gov. Katheen Sebelius.

"I think what we have chosen to try to do is use this anniversary as a reminder of our duty," Henderson said in a weekend interview. "It's really a call to action."

The coalition said state and federal governments need to spend more money to maintain small class sizes, build new schools, provide up-to-date technology to existing schools and help poor school districts recruit and retrain teachers.

But the coalition also wants to attack discrimination in housing and lending, build wealth in minority communities and encourage affluent school districts to enroll children from poor areas.


STATE MARKS ANNIVERSARY: Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed a proclamation Monday declaring that because the promise of the Brown v. Board of Education decision has yet to be realized, "We recommit ourselves to the principles of an equal education and opportunity for all."

Monday was the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring school segregation unconstitutional.

In a prepared text of her remarks for the proclamation ceremony, Sebelius noted that the Kansas Territory was a key battleground over slavery before the Civil War and that Kansas entered the Union as a free state.

"But just as we celebrate how far we have come, we must acknowledge how far we still have to go," Sebelius said. "Although black and white Americans live, work, and learn together now, there is still injustice in America."

The proclamation honored the nation's civil rights leaders and the plaintiffs and attorneys whose achievement in the Brown case began with the filing of a federal lawsuit in Topeka in 1951.


A TALE OF TWO SCHOOLS: The all-white Topeka school that Linda Brown wanted to attend as a child now sits empty, several of its windows boarded up.

In the fall of 1950, school officials rejected the attempts of Brown's father, the lead plaintiff in the Brown v. Board of Education case, to enroll her at Sumner School.

Sumner, named for an abolitionist senator from Massachusetts, was only five blocks from the Browns' home. The all-black Monroe School was 21 blocks from their home.

While throngs gathered Monday at the former Monroe School to celebrate the grand opening of a civil rights museum there, Sumner School was largely overlooked. The school has not contained students since the mid-1990s.

"I've always likened Sumner and Monroe as two pieces to a puzzle," said Pam Shelor, 57, who has lived across the street from the school for 23 years. "I can't imagine why Sumner hasn't been as important as Monroe. It's a sad situation that it's been allowed to deteriorate as much as it has."

For a time, the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library used the former school for storage, while the library was under construction.

The city of Topeka now owns Sumner, which is a National Landmark but hasn't been purchased by the National Park Service.


A NEW MAGNET: Down the street from the all-black school where Linda Brown was a student is a tangible reminder of the legacy of the nation's desegregation efforts -- Williams Fine Arts and Sciences Magnet School.

After the Brown v. Board of Education decision, districts were no longer allowed to designate schools as black or white. But the decision did nothing to address the poverty, discrimination and real estate practices that ensured many black and white families continued to live in separate neighborhoods.

Many neighborhood schools remained segregated, prompting a second round of school cases in Topeka.

Under the Topeka district's eventual desegregation effort, special programs were designed for two magnet schools -- built in the mid-1990s in predominantly minority neighborhoods -- in an attempt to lure white students.

Students from Williams school were to sing Monday during dedication of the Brown national historic site, housed in the former all-black Monroe School.

Here are today's events, official and unofficial, in connection with Topeka's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board decision.¢ State commemoration proclamation at 8:30 a.m. on the south steps of the Capitol. U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., will attend. Event is free, but tickets are required to attend. Call (785) 272-4900.¢ President Bush is the key speaker at the grand opening of Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, 1515 S.E. Monroe St. The event starts at 10:30 a.m. and lasts about two hours. No more tickets are available. Those who already have tickets may board shuttle buses at the Kansas Expocentre, One Expocentre Drive, beginning at 8 a.m. For more information, call LaTonya Miller at (785) 354-1489, ext. 224.¢ Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh and Atty. Gen. Phill Kline will play host to a reception from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Memorial Hall, 120 S.W. 10th Ave. Free and open to the public.¢ Premiere of "Now Let Me Fly" a play about Brown v. Board of Education, at 7 p.m. at the Topeka Performing Arts Center, 214 S.E. Eighth St. All tickets to the free reading are gone, but vacant seats will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, call (785) 234-2787.

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