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DESEGREGATION Court decision observed



Published: Sat, April 17, 2004 @ 12:00 a.m.



We must remember that the Brown case was about education, a judge said.

By JoANNE VIVIANO

VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- For Leon Stennis, Brown vs. Board of Education elicits memories of the year he missed school.

His mother couldn't pay the weekly $30 busing fee to send him to a county school after Arkansas Gov. Orville Faubus closed four Little Rock schools in 1958 to prevent desegregation.

For Judge Nathaniel Jones, Brown vs. Board of Education elicits memories of following in the footsteps of Thurgood Marshall and Charles Houston, and arguing a 1970s case concerning racial segregation in the Detroit schools.

For both, remembering the 50-year-old Supreme Court ruling means looking toward the future with an understanding that there is still work to be done.

Judge Jones, a Youngstown native and retired judge of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, visited Youngstown State University on Friday for an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that outlawed racial segregation in public schools and became the impetus for other desegregation movements.

Stennis, coordinator of diversity initiatives at YSU, is a native of Little Rock, Ark. Serving as master of ceremonies for the event, he shared memories and poems he had written about the aftermath of Brown vs. Board as he saw it through the eyes of a Southern black child.

Meant for education

As Judge Jones gave a keynote address, he noted how the greatest benefits of the equal rights afforded by the Brown case have fallen not to school children but to others, such as women and the disabled.

"We must recall what Brown was all about," he said. "It was about education. We must see to it these next years that education receives some of the same blessings as some of the other groups that benefited from Brown."

Judge Jones spoke on the history of the desegregation movement, pointing to several Supreme Court cases that dealt with such issues.

Judge Jones reviewed the Dred Scott case in which a judge said Scott had no standing to file a lawsuit for his freedom because he was not a person within the meaning of the law.

He also spoke of President Abraham Lincoln's following Emancipation Proclamation and the three Constitutional Amendments that ensured civil rights for all men. He referred to a compromise used to get Rutherford B. Hayes elected president, in which the Hayes contingent promised to withdraw troops from the South and allowed Southern lawmakers to deal with slaves in any way they saw fit.

Separate but equal

Judge Jones then moved on to the Plessy vs. Ferguson Supreme Court decision that allowed "separate but equal" facilities for separate races. And he spoke of how Harvard Law School graduate Charles Hamilton Houston persuaded one of his students at the Howard University School of Law to challenge the separate but equal notion in education.

Judge Jones discussed how, years after the Brown vs. Board decision, he argued that no laws, but various policies and practices, had meant segregation in Detroit public schools. While the Supreme Court upheld a finding of discrimination, it struck down a remedy plan that would have required the state to redesign school district boundaries.

Judge Jones said then-Justice Marshall, in a dissenting opinion, called the failure to uphold the redistricting "a course I feel we will regret."

"Today, as we survey the state of education across the country, we see the accuracy of Justice Marshall's prophetic statement, and we are left with the regret that he predicted," Judge Jones said.

Judge Jones spoke of "a gap ... a mile wide" between the math and reading scores of white and black fourth-graders.

viviano@vindy.com




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