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Understanding Brown v. Board of Education

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Today marks the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, a case which is known around the world, even if it remains somewhat poorly understood. This year also marks the 40th anniversary of another desegregation decision, Milliken v. Bradley, which is far less well-known. This is a bit ironic because to understand the impact of Brown, it is crucial to understand Milliken and, indeed, the latter decision has in many ways had a more lasting impact on education than Brown.

Brown sought to tie the fates of white and black students together by declaring that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal," but the promise of Brown has never fully been realized. For more than a decade after Brown, southern states and school districts did little to desegregate their schools, and the Court tolerated this foot dragging and in some ways encouraged it by proclaiming, ambiguously, that desegregation had to occur with "all deliberate speed." All the while, metropolitan areas were changing rapidly, with middle-income whites leaving cities in droves and moving to all-white suburbs, which often excluded minority residents through a host of devices intentionally designed to promote housing segregation. The Supreme Court finally lost its patience in 1968, when it declared in Green v. New Kent County, that the time for "all deliberate speed" had come to end and that school districts had to actually integrate their schools.

In many urban areas, however, this was too little, too late: integrating urban schools was becoming increasingly difficult by the late 1960s and early 1970s because there were so few white students left in city school systems. As a result, some lower courts began fashioning desegregation decrees that required busing between suburbs and cities. This controversial remedy provoked huge outcries from parents and legislators, Democrats and Republicans, northerners and southerners. President Nixon even addressed a national audience to criticize busing for desegregation, especially busing that crossed the line between cities and suburbs. ...

To read the complete article, please visit the the Huffington Post.