“No matter where you sit in Topeka is hallowed ground,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). Weingarten and nearly three hundred teachers and education advocates had come to Topeka, Kansas on May 17, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the historic Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that changed the trajectory of public education in the United States. The Brown ruling overturned “separate but equal” status quo in U.S. public education, ensuring that a child’s race or skin color would no longer determine the type of public education offered to them.
Sixty years after the ruling, educators marched from the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site to the steps of the Kansas state capitol building, to bring attention to how far the public education system has come, and how far it still has to go in order to achieve equal opportunity in classrooms for Kansas students.
Kansas remains at the forefront of the legal and legislative battles that still exist in public education. Legislators, educators, and other advocates there are wrangling over inadequate funding of schools in urban poor and rural areas of the state. Sue Wilson, a native of Kansas City, Kansas and social action chair of her local graduate chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., says she is disappointed that we have not made more progress as a nation. She never imagined that 60 years after the Brown decision there would remain a gap in education equality. Millie Vaughn, a retired school librarian from Kansas City, Missouri shared, “I’m afraid we are going back rather than moving forward.”
Many at the Saturday event believed that economics has emerged as the greatest obstacle to climbing the ladder of education opportunities. “Class is becoming more and more a segregator and it has huge racial implications,” said Weingarten. “We have to fight demography from becoming destiny. Race or class shouldn’t be the barrier to having or securing education in the United States.”
Lucinda Noches Talbert, granddaughter of Brown v. Board plaintiff Lucinda Todd, “We’ve made a lot progress but we have a long way to go to realize my grandmother’s dream of equity.” She attended the event with her 22-year-old daughter extending her family’s longtime legacy and commitment to activism to the next generation. As the ongoing education debate continues, complex issues around school funding, wrap around services for students and closing the opportunity gap remain. This generation of leaders, educators, advocates must continue this fight, building on a legacy that began more than 60 years ago.
Clarence J. Fluker is a man of substance and style, living a life of politics and prose in Washington, DC. He earned his undergraduate degree from Morgan State University and graduate degree from American University. You can follow him on Twitter @CJFluker.