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Historic case celebrates 50 years

Tricia de Groot | Friday, September 24, 2004

In celebration of the 50-year anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, a case monumental in the quest for equal opportunity, the Notre Dame NAACP chapter invited faculty and students to join in a forum about race issues Thursday night.

The event featured a panel composed of two undergraduate professors, one law school professor and a second-year law student, and was followed by open discussion and a question-and-answer period.

The forum began with a brief introduction of the plans for the evening from Kathryn Bethea, president of the Notre Dame NAACP chapter, followed by a video clip themed, “After 50 years, how far have we come?”

The clip focused on the important events, people and court decisions preceding the historic 1954 case. It paid particular attention to Charles Houston, Special Council for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1934-40, and the NAACP’s decision to begin desegregation by fighting for equal educational opportunities.

Following the video, each of the four guest speakers shared with the audience their own insight and reflection on the matters surrounding the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

Law professor Jay Tidmarsh began by focusing on three points relevant to the court decision: Background information that set the stage for the case, the case itself and finally the time immediately following the decision. Tidmarsh also stressed that although Brown v. Board of Education overturned the idea of “separate but equal”, it wasn’t until years later that the federal government took real action to desegregate.

The second speaker, law student Bobby Brown, began by admitting his own lack of knowledge about Brown v. Board of Education prior to being asked to be on the panel.

“I was amazed that how much more than Brown it was,” Brown said. “It is not something we talk about day in and day out so we have to seek this information out.”

Brown told the audience to let the information they discover about the case be a guide for their everday activities.

Institute of Latino Studies director of research Timothy Ready began his portion of the panel by asking about the meaning of opportunity for quality education today. He encouraged the audience to look at how everyone, at their own place at the University and in society, can fight segregation.

“Educational issues are the forefront of civil rights concerns today,” Ready said.

He also said that educational opportunity for all is still an issue today.

The final speaker, assistant professor in American studies Thomas Guglielmo, discussed the dangers that exist in a general, celebratory attitude toward history. He stressed there was no actual desegregation following the decision of Brown v. Board of Education and that it wasn’t until federal money was a factor that the nation saw real action.

“This is clearly a story of no steady progress. Since the eighties, there has been a marked desegregation against blacks and Latinos,” he said. “Nothing is inevitable, and progress only comes through struggle and activism. We need a new movement, a new activism and a new struggle because of the desegregations.”