Brown v. Board decision celebrated in Topeka

? With prayer, song and reflection, several hundred people gathered in Topeka over the weekend to mark the 55th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on May 17, 1954, that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. The decision is credited with setting in motion many other civil rights reforms.

On Sunday, nearly 300 people gathered at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in the former Monroe School. Representatives from families involved in each of five cases that were combined by the Supreme Court case were present.

“I am so very glad I have lived long enough to see this happen,” Duane Fleming, 64, of Minneapolis, whose family was a plaintiff in the Brown v. Board case, said Sunday. “The Brown v. Board of Education decision was termed a historic event and happening. It changed a lot of the ways people were made to understand there should be equal justice for everybody, especially in the public schools.”

Fleming said the decision allowed black children to attend Lafayette School, which was closer to his home. He previously attended the all-black Washington School.

His was one of 13 local black families that tried to enroll their children in white schools in the fall of 1950, when members of the Topeka chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People decided to challenge the city’s segregated school system.

Another parent who participated was Oliver Brown, whose 9-year-old daughter, Linda, was required to attend Monroe instead of a nearer, all-white school. His name was listed first in the federal lawsuit, filed in 1951, and that case was consolidated with others from Virginia, South Carolina, Delaware and Washington, D.C.

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson, a fourth-generation Kansan whose great-grandparents came to the Sunflower State as part of the Exoduster movement after the Civil War, spoke at the gathering, praising the “courage and character” of the families represented during Sunday’s event.

Charles Scott Jr., whose father was one of the Brown case attorneys, said while the day was for celebration, it was also a time for recommitment, as the dream for equal educational opportunities “has not been totally fulfilled for millions of children.”