April 28, 2004
CONTACT: Mike Stepanovich, 661/664-2456 or mstepanovich@csub.edu

A 50-year retrospective of the benchmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended segregation in the nation’s public schools is scheduled at California State University, Bakersfield on Tuesday, May 4, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Student Union multi-purpose room.

The public forum, titled “Brown v. Board of Education: To Win Equality by Law,” will feature a panel of experts exploring the issues that led up to the decision and its impact. Panelists are:

Gene Tackett, former Kern County supervisor, will moderate the panel discussion.

According to background information on the Congress of Racial Equality website, on May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ended federally sanctioned racial segregation in the public schools by ruling unanimously that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” A groundbreaking case, Brown v. Board of Education not only overturned the precedent of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896, which had declared “separate but equal facilities” constitutional), but also provided the legal foundation of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Although widely perceived as a revolutionary decision, Brown v. Board of Education was in fact the culmination of changes both in the court and in the strategies of the civil-rights movement.

The Supreme Court had become more liberal in the years since it decided Plessy, largely due to appointments by Democratic Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S Truman, and had issued decisions in the 1930s and 1940s that rendered racial separation illegal in certain situations.

Now consolidated under the name Brown v. Board of Education, the five cases came before the Supreme Court in December 1952. The lead attorney on the case, Thurgood Marshall, later appointed to the Supreme Court, and his colleagues wrote that states had no valid reason to impose segregation, that racial separation -– no matter how equal the facilities – caused psychological damage to black children, and that “restrictions or distinctions based upon race or color” violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The opinion, written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, who grew up and attended public schools in Bakersfield, was short and straightforward. It echoed Marshall's expert witnesses, stating that for African American schoolchildren, segregation “generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely to ever be undone.” The decision went on to say that segregation had no valid purpose, was imposed to give blacks lower status, and was therefore unconstitutional based on the 14th Amendment.

The forum is sponsored by the CSUB Political Science Department, the League of Women Voters, Black Women and Black Men on Campus, African-American Student Union, and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

For more information, please call the Political Science Department at (661) 664-2456.