Examining the history of the breakthrough Brown v. Board of Education case, last Thursday’s lecture on “The Historical Context of the Brown Decisions” proved to be thought-provoking and eye-opening for many students.
The lecture was part of a series of events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the decision.
James Horton, a professor at George Washington University, led the lecture. Horton served on the White House Millennium Council and has written several books on similar topics, such as “In Hope of Liberty” and “The History of the African-American People.”
He said it is crucial to realize that the Brown case was only one point on a long timeline of racial struggle. Although it involved desegregation, the decision was much more important than simply a court case that struck down legalized segregation, he said.
The case began in 1952 when four states and the District of Columbia approached the Supreme Court and protested that segregation in the public school system was not equal and violated citizens’ freedoms. More than two years later, the Supreme Court decided that this practice did indeed violate the Fourteenth Amendment, and was overturned.
“It opened my eyes because I didn’t realize how important of an issue it was to everyone involved,” Jon Kirby, freshman engineering major, said. “By seeing its importance, I’ve become more aware of the struggle that still exists, and how the issue didn’t end with the Brown decision or with the end of busing.”
Busing, as described by Kirby, occurred after the decision and involved the “white flight” from the cities into the suburbs. Buses were used to bring whites back into the city and black students out in hopes of integrating the schools and making them more racially balanced.
Horton indicated that race relations cannot be understood without seeing how slavery formed this historical context, particularly since the foundation of the American economy was based on it. Additionally, the Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 (which Brown overturned) and the Jim Crow laws emphasized the differences between pre- and post- Brown.
The Plessy case involved Homer Plessy, a man who was one-eighth black who seated himself in the “wrong compartment” (whites- only section) of a passenger coach. When Plessy fought the fine that was issued to him, he was overruled.
The Jim Crow laws were anti-African-American laws that restricted the usage of public facilities and schools. Segregation on trains and buses was also put into effect.
These examples reiterated the relevance of the Brown case for many students. “It raises the awareness of the black plight whereas students at TCNJ might not have been previously exposed to the unjust experiences and situations of our not-too-distant past,” Nemanja Jojic, freshman computer engineering major, said.
“You realize how much change has occurred in the years since the decision. More progress has been made in the 50 years after the decision than the 50 years prior to it,” David Kong, freshman biology major, said.
Horton emphasized the need to embrace racial topics instead of avoiding them in order to move forward.
“We need to have a conversation on race,” he said. “This was a tremendously important landmark decision; we need to make the most of it.”