U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall, Kansas Republicans, endorsed a Senate measure recognizing the role of other states in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. The above mural honoring the decision is in the Kansas Capitol building. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — U.S. Sens. Roger Marshall and Jerry Moran celebrated Monday unanimous adoption by the Senate of legislation commemorating work in all communities that contributed to the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring unconstitutional the “separate but equal” educational system.
The Supreme Court’s action in the consolidated Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case held a mirror up to the nation and eventually forced states to integrate public schools. The nation’s highest court struck down doctrine established by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, which served as a linchpin to institutional segregation of school facilities in the United States.
“Decades ago, parents in the Topeka area stood up for their children and fought against segregation, ultimately leading to a vital Supreme Court decision that changed our nation for the better,” Marshall said. “Kansas has a rich history of engagement in the fight for civil rights and these historical sites hold a special place in our hearts.”
Under legislation sent to the U.S. House, the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka would be referred to as the Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Park. The intent is to allow the National Park Service to recognize the importance of school litigation in Delaware, South Carolina, Virginia and the District of Columbia to the court decision.
Instead of condensing public memory of the Brown v. Board of Education decision to one historic building in Topeka, the new designation would recognize contributions of people in Claymont, Hockessin and Wilmington, Delaware; Summerton, South Carolina; Farmville, Virginia; and the District of Columbia.
Moran, also a Kansas Republican, said Linda Brown and her parents in Topeka dedicated themselves to righting a wrong not unraveled until the Supreme Court overturned precedent relied upon to discriminate against school children because of their skin color.
“I look forward to the president signing this legislation into law to expand and preserve the historic sites in Kansas and around the country connected to this case,” he said. “Kansas has played a key role in the civil rights movement, and we must seek to preserve this legacy which calls on all Americans to uphold the self-evident truth that all men and women are created equal.”
The 1954 decision was characterized by constitutional scholar Louis Pollak as “probably the most important American government act of any kind since the Emancipation Proclamation.” It was a catalyst for the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
The earlier Plessy decision was used by states to cling to legalized segregation, despite protections in the U.S. Constitution and underscored by the 14th and 15th Amendments.
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