New Kansas Statehouse mural commemorates Brown v. Board of Education
TOPEKA — A new mural commemorating the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Topeka Board of Education will be unveiled to the public on Thursday, May 17, the 64th anniversary of the decision that struck down racial segregation in public schools.
The mural, which is the work of Kansas City, Kan., artist Michael Young, is the result of nearly 10 years of effort by Kansas lawmakers and the state’s Capitol Preservation Committee, and is thought to be the first new, permanent art installation inside the Statehouse in more than 30 years.
Kenya Cox, executive director of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission, said she thought it was important for Kansas to honor in its Statehouse one of the most significant legal decisions in the nation’s history.
“To have that mural in our Kansas State Capitol speaks volumes of what is important to us and what we value,” she said in a phone interview. “I personally believe that what we place in positions of prominence in the public square communicates what we value and what we deem to be important.”
The mural covers a large wall, about 22 feet wide and 8 feet tall, on the third floor of the Statehouse, outside a room known as the Old Supreme Courtroom. It is composed of three main sections that tell the story of the passion and controversy that surrounded the 1954 decision, as well as its legacy today.
The focal point in the center of the mural depicts a black teacher reading a book about the case to a multiracial group of children. Behind them is the U.S. Supreme Court building, with the words “Equal Justice Under Law” carved above its columns.
Depicted on a table near the teacher and students is a framed picture of Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP attorney who argued the case at the Supreme Court on behalf of the plaintiffs and who would later become the first black Supreme Court justice in American history.
The left and right portions of the mural depict starkly different reactions to the decision that were seen in American communities across the country for at least the next 20 years.
On the left are images of white adults marching and carrying picket signs protesting the decision, with one person carrying a sign that reads “Keep City Schools White.” A few white children follow behind them, along with a soldier in combat gear carrying a rifle.
On the right are black demonstrators, including two wearing graduation caps and gowns, with signs denouncing racial segregation as immoral. One sign, shaped like a tombstone, reads “Jim Crow. B. 1876. D. 1965” — the latter date being the year that the national Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act were signed into law.
Efforts to install a Brown v. Board of Education mural at the Statehouse began in 2009 and 2010 when lawmakers passed a bill authorizing the mural and establishing the Capitol Preservation Committee, a group that oversees artwork and monuments in the Capitol Area Complex. That bill was signed into law by then-Gov. Mark Parkinson.
Following that, the committee went through the process of selecting the artist and raising money to pay for the work.
The mural will first be shown Wednesday evening during a VIP reception in the Statehouse. Legislative leaders held a special meeting of the Legislative Coordinating Council Tuesday to authorize the serving of wine at that reception.
The public dedication is scheduled for noon Thursday. Cox said that Gov. Jeff Colyer will sign a proclamation commemorating the 64th anniversary of the decision.
Also scheduled to speak are Cheryl Brown Henderson, a daughter of one of the original plaintiffs in the case, the Rev. Oliver Brown, and the founder of the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Education and Research; Kevin Myles, southeast regional field director for the NAACP; and U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson, of Kansas City, Kan.