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Rep. John Lewis on 65th Anniversary of Brown v. Board Decision

May 17, 2019
Press Release

I was so pleased to participate in the timely efforts of Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) of the Education and Labor Committee to commemorate this important Brown v. Board anniversary.  I will never forget the day I heard that the U.S. Supreme Court had desegregated America’s schools.  I was 14 years old.  At the time I was a student in a separate and unequal system of education in Alabama.  As black children we were subjected to overcrowded classrooms, ramshackle buildings, inadequate funding, and hand-me-down books.  I had to travel in a broken down bus that rumbled and pitched over dirt roads to make our way to school.

“When it rained, sometimes the bus would get stuck in the mud.  I and the other children on the bus had to get out and try to push the bus to get it moving.  As the bus wheels spun, they would splatter mud all over our school clothes.  We might not even make it to school before half the day was over, and our clothes would be muddy and stained.

“I’ll never forget the feeling of leaving those dirt roads and riding so easily on smooth city streets on our trip, traveling past beautiful schools with marble steps and tall columns where white children learned.  After the Brown decision I thought I would finally meet some of those children and that they would be my classmates, but that never happened for me.  I never attended an integrated school during all my years of education, but because of the Brown decision millions of Americans did.

“The most powerful impact of Brown was to break down the barriers erected by racist traditions and legislative mandates that made discrimination acceptable and legal, and denied millions of American of their constitutional rights.  Today we must ask ourselves, have we taken the freedoms the struggles against those five schools districts in the Brown case and the powerful advocacy of Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, as it is now called, made possible?  Why is it that our schools today do not reflect 65 years of continuous progress Brown should have created but have remanded back to segregated conditions more like the 1960s than anything we would expect in the 21st century?

“We have been too quiet, too comfortable, too complacent.  We must become maladjusted to the forces in our society that are working in a coordinated and persistent way to take us back to a time when decisions in this country were made by a few and not the exercise of the many.  Freedom is not a state; it is an act.  We must put fire under the struggle for equal justice, equal access to education and the ballot box.  We must remain vigilant and prepared to take whatever steps are necessary to defend the hard won progress ushered in by the Brown decision.   If we don’t use it, powerful forces are working to ensure that we lose it.”

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