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Sixty years have passed since the Supreme Court ruled segregation in public schools unconstitutional. The legal event was a landmark for equal rights. But a look around at the country today shows that discrimination and inequality stubbornly persist in the U.S, researchers say.
A series of talks Thursday sponsored by the Hall Center for the Humanities commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling by considering the case's place in history and how the world has changed since.
Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University and a professor of law, delivered the keynote lecture of the symposium. When president of the University of Michigan, Bollinger saw his own name on a Supreme Court decision as the defendant of the university's affirmative action policies.
Bollinger called Brown v. Board "the great decision of the 20th century." He said that he and others of his generation who studied law did so "in the light" of Brown, which laid out a blueprint for changing society. But Bollinger noted segregation continues in many U.S. schools and said, "Our country has a history that must be addressed."
Panel speakers throughout the day said the current legal and economic climate still poses challenges for equality and civil rights.
Laura Beth Nielson, a professor of sociology at Northwestern University, said that individuals pursuing civil rights suits against employers are often demonized, though it's often their only recourse for enforcing civil rights laws in the workplace.
In a study of Kansas City police stops, Chuck Epp, a KU professor of public affairs and administration, found that black drivers were three times more likely than whites to be subject to "investigatory" stops, where drivers are stopped for little or no stated reason and often searched.
Epp said these stops have become institutionalized in police units across the U.S. and have "eroded" trust in the police for many African Americans.
Others pointed to a widening wealth gap in the U.S. as an obstacle to progress. William Elliott III, a KU associate professor of social welfare, said disparities in asset accumulation make it harder for people of color to get rewarded for their ability.
"There is considerable evidence, even in the post-Brown landscape, this path of upward mobility is blocked for many," he said.