Today, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D- S.C.), introduced legislation to honor and commemorate the historic sites that contributed to the 1954 landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The purpose of this legislation is to expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site to include historic sites in South Carolina and designate National Park Service (NPS) Affiliated Areas in other states. It would recognize the importance of the additional sites that catalyzed litigation in Delaware, South Carolina, Kansas, Virginia and Washington, DC, and expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas. The legislation was crafted in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In the Senate, the bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.).
“In order to change our future, we must confront our past,” said Senator Coons. “The preservation of historic sites connected to the Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, is an important step in remembering the painful but significant impact the doctrine of separate but equal had on our nation. The Bulah v. Gebhart and Belton v. Gebhart Delaware decisions that were affirmed in Brown v. Board of Education are a story of what is possible when a mother fights for her child, and a lawyer and chancellor fight for change. I’m honored to introduce this legislation in the Senate which will preserve and share this important history.”
“This legislative initiative has been a personal mission for me to ensure that all Brown v. Board of Education sites receive their due recognition for the contributions they made to end ‘separate but equal’ education in this country,” Congressman Clyburn said. “I am honored to represent Summerton, South Carolina, where the first case that eventually ended the practice of legal segregation, Briggs v. Elliott, originated, and I knew many of the plaintiffs in that case. The unsung heroes of Briggs v. Elliott, and all the other plaintiffs that collectively became Brown v. Board of Education, must be remembered and memorialized to fully tell the story of how segregation ended in our nation’s public schools.”
“Passage of this legislation will help us tell the full story of Brown V. Board of Education by elevating and protecting these powerful historic places and the inspiring stories of people who have not previously had their story told on a national stage,” said Katherine Malone-France, the Chief Preservation Officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was described by constitutional scholar Louis H. Pollak as “probably the most important American government act of any kind since the Emancipation Proclamation.” The Brown decision transformed the United States, striking down the separate-but-equal doctrine established by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. The Plessy decision was the linchpin that condoned and entrenched legalized segregation across the South, despite protections clearly stated in the U.S. Constitution and underscored by the 14th and 15th Amendments.
These laws stayed in placed for nearly 100 years after Reconstruction, but pioneering civil rights lawyers Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, William Hastie, Constance Baker Motley, Louis Lorenzo Redding, and others challenged the constitutionality of segregation and won. The Brown decision ended the practice of legalized segregation in educational facilities and was a major catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.
The history of Brown v. Board of Education is represented in our national consciousness by a single building, Monroe School, which is a National Historic Site located in Topeka, Kansas. This limited geographic scope condenses public memory of these events and inadvertently fails to recognize the contributions of the other communities in Claymont, Delaware; Hockessin, Delaware; Wilmington, Delaware; Summerton, South Carolina; Farmville, Virginia; and the District of Columbia that were also important to the fight for equality and that saw their cases consolidated with the Brown case. The geographic dispersion of these locations demonstrates that Brown v. Board of Education is truly a story of a national struggle with national significance.
“Recognizing Hockessin Colored School #107 as an affiliated area of the National Park System is a fitting tribute to Delaware’s unique role in the Brown decision,” said the Honorable Collins J. Seitz, Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court. “Of the five cases appealed in Brown, the Delaware decision in Belton v. Gebhart – requiring the immediate admission of African American students to schools attended by white children – was the only appeal affirmed by the Supreme Court.”
“The family of Louis L. Redding commends the preservation of these historic schools as reminders of the hard-won rights of African Americans to equal access in education,” said JB Redding, on behalf of the family of Louis L. Redding. “Further, their existence serves as a reminder that the struggle for full implementation of these rights continues.”
“With the path to the infamous Brown versus the Board of Education beginning its genesis in Summerton, South Carolina, with the Briggs v. Elliott case, the Clarendon School District One’s Board of Trustees and the local community is humbled and honored to have two historic facilities entrusted to the National Park Service,” said Clarendon Superintendent Barbara Champagne. “The designation of the Summerton School and the Scott’s Branch School is steeped in the authentic American story of the journey for equality and equity. The voices of those courageous men and women who were given the vision for better opportunities and for equitable resources will not remain silent or forgotten. Instead, their voices will echo through the annals of history as a reminder of what can be achieved through determination, perseverance, and faith.
The creation of NPS Affiliated Areas in Delaware, Virginia, and the District of Columbia for sites associated with the Brown v. Board of Education case and an expansion of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site to include the related sites in South Carolina provides an opportunity for these sites to tell their own uplifting, under-recognized stories of students, parents, and their allies who helped shape American society.
Enactment of this legislation has the potential to appropriately recognize the sites associated with the other four court cases and help them to combine current uses with preservation and public education. In collaboration with local partners and other stakeholders, the National Trust will continue their collective work to bring recognition to communities that fought for school integration, helping these sites to tell their own history of the Brown v. Board of Education case and make connections to other communities engaged in the fight for educational equity, past and present.
About the National Trust for Historic Preservation
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a privately funded nonprofit organization that works to save America’s historic places. Visit http://www.savingplaces.org
About the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund
The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund is a multi-year initiative led by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in partnership with the Ford Foundation, the JPB Foundation, the Open Society Foundations and other partners, working to make an important and lasting contribution to our cultural landscape by elevating the stories and places of African American achievement and activism. Visit http://www.savingplaces.org/actionfund