by Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law
*May 17 is the 60th Anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court opinion, Brown v. Board of Education. This post is part of an ACSblog symposium noting the landmark decision and exploring the ongoing inequalities in our society.
The sixtieth anniversary of the decision in Brown v. Board of Education, on May 17, is an occasion for celebrating what it accomplished and reflecting on how it failed. Brown began a social revolution that ultimately ended the apartheid and Jim Crow laws that segregated every aspect of life in the south and in many other places as well. Brown was a crucial part of the foundation for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the most important federal civil rights laws since Reconstruction.
Yet, it is a mistake to think that Brown brought about an end to the enormous racial inequalities in American society. The most recent census data indicates that 9.7 percent of whites live below the poverty line, compared with 25.6 percent of Latinos and 27.22 percent of African–Americans. Seventeen percent of white children are in families below the poverty line, compared with 32.5 percent of Latino and 35.3 percent of African-American children. This is the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws and the racism that has existed throughout American history.
It also is a reflection of the historic and continued inequality in American public education. The profound irony is that schools, the focus of Brown, are the area where racial segregation most persists. The tragic reality is that American public schools remain separate and unequal and are becoming ever more so.