Brown v. Board and the People

Folks don’t often dwell overlong in the exact machinations of government. We would all be ecstatic not to have to dwell in political limbo in regards to such thorny subjects as sexism and racism, but alas. There are surely much flashier, trendier issues to be talking about that aren’t ancient sins of our nation. When push comes to shove, however, we must acknowledge a basic appreciation for self-reflection into the values of our nation. Racism wasn’t uprooted from the South — or anywhere, for that matter — it merely became a legal challenge to remove discrimination at the leisure of the nation’s localities.  Contrary to popular opinion, this was an equally painful process in the North, as our modern “framings reinforce the idea that Northern Black people were of a different character and didn’t engage in sustained organizing, and that Black Power emerged out of nowhere” (Theoharris 33). Power in the form of speaking out and organizing around an issue plaguing society was granted to Black people by themselves, not as a gratuity from the government. 

The wording of individual bills and proposals couldn’t encompass the threat that sexism posed to society. The top-down solution came and went without major change until people got out into the streets. “Like its Southern counterparts, New York City did not want to desegregate its schools after Brown” (37). Localities were too entrenched in the fear of minorities to make any form of change in the separation of schools by race. It would be the onus of the government to threaten proper fines and penalties were Brown not upheld. Unfortunately, instead of a massive upsurge in school diversity, we got the opposite effect; “in fact, as in other Northern cities, segregation worsened in New York City schools in the decade after Brown, particularly in response to large-scale Black and Puerto Rican migration to the city” (43). There wasn’t sufficient legal precedent in place to prevent a massive reactionary backslide after Brown passed. Congresspeople were slow to express a desire for these protections. 

It isn’t quite accurate to characterize congress as being of one mind about these turns of events. For example, “Emanuel Cellar, a Democratic congressman from Brooklyn, helped ensure a loophole in the 1964 Civil Rights Act that would keep federal enforcement away from — and federal money flowing into — New York’s segregated schools” (46). This sabotage of the act allowed for even more disinterest in solving the problem of enforcement.

Though history books may tell us the history of our nation as a series of bill passages, we cannot contain the complexities of our social fabric within such a thin timeline. Moves and countermoves play out on the national as well as individual scale, interlinking the complex machinations of Capitol Hill with the goings-on of the local elementary school. To say that history is reducible to the individual actions of the supreme court is extremely naive. We must acknowledge the contribution of common folk who thought enough about the world they lived in to realize they could affect change.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: