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Panel discusses Brown case

Janice Flynn | Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Students and faculty gathered Monday night in the first of a two-part series commemorating the 50th anniversary of the historic Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision for a panel discussion and a documentary screening.Educational institutions across the nation are honoring the anniversary of Brown, which declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional. Discussion has turned to focus on the legacy of Brown and the present condition of American public schools.The documentary “The Road to Brown” depicted racial segregation from the birth of the nation up to the present day. It particularly focused on the life of Charles Hamilton Houston, an oft-forgotten but crucial individual to the long process of toppling racial segregation, who has been called “The Man Who Killed Jim Crow.”Jack Pratt, associate dean of the Law School, gave a brief introduction to Houston, asking the audience to keep in mind the “life-threatening” conditions in which Houston worked.Houston, a prestigious black lawyer, traveled throughout the south in the 1930s. Equipped with a movie camera, he captured the discrepancies between black and white schools. With a tenacious group of gifted black lawyers that included his student Thurgood Marshall, Houston chipped away at segregation laws set into place by the 1894 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson.Houston died in 1950, but many of his prominent contemporaries are now being highly sought after as the May anniversary approaches.”Major universities are devoting a great many resources to bring in major speakers, historians, and participants in Brown,” said Stuart Greene, a professor in the Education, Schooling and Society Minor.In the second half of the night, Bill Carbonaro, a sociology professor, and Richard Pierce, a history professor, explained the legacy of Brown in light of their respective disciplines.Carbonaro described Brown as an important “lever for social change,” a lever requiring individual action for implementation. Pierce called the case a “euphoric moment” in context of the greater civil rights movement.The ensuing question-and-answer session raised several educational debates. Students and faculty discussed how the legacy of Brown manifests itself in controversies such as the No Child Left Behind Act, voucher programs and the theory of racial perpetuation.The second part of the discussion will take place today from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Coleman-Morse lounge.A panel of ESS students will speak about the legacy of Brown as it relates to their own research. The discussion will focus on two areas: the broad implications on public education and the local affect on the South Bend area. The event is one of the only campus events commemorating the anniversary. In February, the Notre Dame Law School sponsored a speech by Jack Greenberg, a lawyer in the Brown case.”Universities all over the country are having these kinds of conversations,” said Stuart. “We thought it was really important that Notre Dame students have this conversation as well.”