There are some dates forever emblazoned on our national consciousness: July 4, 1776, December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001. For other events, the precise dates may elude us, but the impact is undeniable. The anniversary of one such date is upon us.
May 17, 2004, will mark 50 years since the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that struck down segregation in public schools.
Although conventional wisdom may say African Americans were the sole beneficiaries of Brown, history disagrees. Brown’s history, and legacy, is much more than black and white.
We must remember the Chinese Americans who fought a similar fight for equal opportunity in education almost 30 years earlier in Mississippi. We must remember that Mexican Americans in California struggled for school equity in the 1940s. And we must remember that it was a courageous all-white Supreme Court that forged this landmark ruling.
Throughout our country’s history, racism — manifested as segregation — diminished what it meant to be an American. Before Brown, our calls for justice abroad rang hollow to many on our own shores and elsewhere. The Brown decision began to change that.
Today, 50 years later, are we perfect? The answer is no.
Are we better? The answer is yes.
But the best is yet to come.
We are better people, and we are a better nation, when we work, live and learn together. We are a closer community when we listen and laugh as one. My role as a father has taught me that.
In airports, restaurants or coffee shops, I feel a connection to countless folks who can relate to my most challenging and rewarding experience. Strangers become friends as we share stories about unmade beds, undone homework and the volcanic science project that actually erupted!
This sharing of experiences has reinforced one of my core beliefs: We have more in common than we do in difference. But we never really know that, or know each other, until we sit down together, in the lunchroom, in the boardroom and in the classroom. Brown helped us do that.
"Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world's cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human. ... Tolerance is harmony in difference."
Declaration of Principles of Tolerance, UNESCO
Inside our magazine and our website, we have created a special classroom section to help you convey the important meaning of Brown to your students.
But we urge you take the lessons of Brown beyond the classroom. To shatter the segregation — racial, social and otherwise — that taints schools, push your students — and yourself — to move beyond what separates us and discover what unites us.
This issue of Teaching Tolerance can help you along the way. With articles on bullying and stereotypes, we offer strategies for addressing problems that damage what should be a wondrous school experience for every student. As well, we encourage you to start Mix it Up Dialogue Groups at your school and participate in Mix It Up at Lunch Day on November 16, 2004.
Our belief: It is not enough to remember Brown. We also must embrace its uniquely American spirit: One nation, indivisible.