By Dennis Michaelis
At its January meeting, the McLennan Community College Board of Trustees adopted a resolution marking the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the United States Supreme Court. This is an anniversary worthy of very special note because it is certainly one of the most important cases ever to be decided by our nation’s highest court and it provides every American interested in the education of our youth the opportunity to reflect upon the importance of this landmark case.
Since the day its doors opened, MCC has stayed true to the values of access and equity in education that were core to Brown v. Board of Education. The MCC Board of Trustees recognizes the impact of this case on the college’s mission of service to this community. Community colleges in America were built on the principle of providing educational opportunity to every person who desires it.
For those whose recollection of history is fuzzy, the Brown case began in Topeka, Kansas, where the school board had created separate schools for white and African American children … schools that were supposed to be “equal” but most certainly were not. A group of 13 Topeka parents initiated a class-action suit on behalf of their children. At the same time across the country, parents in Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina, and Washington, D.C. were filing separate lawsuits challenging the premise of “separate but equal” schools. These lawsuits were brought together under one case, and on May 17, 1954, the United State Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision that it was an unconstitutional violation of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution to separate children in public schools for no other reason than their race. It was a decision that changed America forever and in the most positive way I can personally imagine.
I was a 5th grader in 1954, going to school in Kansas where the Brown decision originated. I relate to the Brown decision because of its Kansas origins, but the paradox is that “separate but equal” was not even an issue in my hometown, located only a few hundred miles from Topeka. Of course, I’m glad that such a positive result came from my home state, but I must also admit that as a child I was confused about why the schools in Topeka did not allow white and African American children to go to school together. As far as I knew, every school, everywhere had always been integrated simply because I never knew it any other way. I’m proud of that memory, even if it was innocently misguided.
Certainly, not all communities across the country experienced such an amicable transition to integrated schools and it is equally certain that our country still has miles to go before conditions in our schools are as they should be---totally without regard to race, religion, or gender. I admire the courage of the parents who stood up for their children and the justices who stood up for what is right. The jump-start provided by the Brown v. Board of Education decision moved our nation in the correct direction.
There is nothing more satisfying than to meet a person whose life was dramatically changed by education. I’m proud that in the 50 years since the Brown decision, our nation’s community colleges have been at the forefront of the continuing campaign for universal equality in education. At this time of commemorating this landmark Supreme Court decision, I hope each of us continues the quest for universal equality until every child, everywhere never knows it any other way.