Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka, KS
National Historic Site
A formerly-segregated school bears testimony to the decisions that ended ''Seperate but equal'' 50 years ago.
Traveling either east or west on I-70 through Topeka, Kansas
one cannot miss the signs about the Brown vs Board of Education
National Historic Site. The signs from the Interstate exit to
the old school building are easy to follow.
Opened in May, 2004, 50 years after Thurgood Marshall won this
case, the paint was barely dry when we visited.
The Park Service chose a formerly-segregated school building to house
the displays. Upon entering, a tour guide gave us an excellent overview
of the cases decided on May 17, 1954. He pointed out how the decision
affected himself, an American Indian, not just African-Americans.
Inside, several galleries deal with various aspects of the
school-segregation issue. They point out that it was not limited to the
deep South -- indeed the most famous case originated in Topeka, Kansas.
They tell about the 5 cases the Court heard, the individuals who brought
them, and the lawyers who fought them.
Another gallery tells about the violence when schools integrated.
Ruby Bridges appears here, as
do other heroic black students. This section
includes some real black-and-white footage of confrontations outside the
schools. A sign outside this gallery warns of the offensive nature of some of the
content. Actually, the gallery should not offend anyone. The offensive language
and actions are decried in their historical perspective -- which is what anyone
visiting a National Historic Site should expect.
The section I found unsettling compared school segregation to contemporary
problems around the world. The site's creators considered
"Economic justice", world hunger, and the fighting in Ireland problems on a par
with school segregation. I disagree with linking these together. First, these problems
are of a completely different nature than legislated segregation and doubtless have
different solutions. Second, saying essentially, "We still have this same kind of
problem today all around us", demeans the real difficulties black people faced 50
years ago. Finally, it demeans the progress that has been made, the progress that
the site is designed to celebrate. This particular display is a shameless attempt to
hijack the horror over past injustices into action, the action that seems best according
to a particular political point of view, for completely unrelated issues. The bias
of this display's creators becomes evident upon examination of the photo and caption
for the fighting in Ireland.
The smallest caption here reads "Catholic students require police protection passing
through a Protestant neighborhood." Notice that the little girl wears orange, the
color of the Protestants, not the St Patrick's green we all know to associate with
In other regards it's very well-done. We spent about an hour and a half and saw most
of the displays. We did pass up the movie theater, so we should have planned another hour
to see everything.
Official Website of the Brown vs Board of Education National Historic Site
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