A Movement of Ideals

The 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education became the historic course correction that informed the civil rights movement and resonates in the chants of the Black Lives Matter movement.  Brown ultimately laid-bare the failure of the federal government to carry out the promise of equality articulated in our founding documents.  It created a seismic shift in the espoused core values of this nation.  A shift we continue to grapple with today.

As a nation we profess to believe in social equality, justice and humanity, yet we witness almost daily, public displays suggesting that is not so.  Change cannot come about unless we acknowledge that the current divisive political discourse is deafening.  We have faith that the Black Lives Matter movement of ideals will create an environment where the foundational beliefs we profess can be examined and interpreted against a backdrop of this contemporary struggle.

Ultimately state, local and national leaders must listen to the voices of our youth and respect the wisdom of African American elders who were on the front lines of the 1960s and 1970s civil rights movement.

Historically, justice and access to constitutional protections have not been extended voluntarily to African Americans.  It took legal challenges and protest marches to shed light on the brutality of Black Codes, Jim Crow laws, willful disregard for Black lives by lynching, denying the right to vote, and refusing equal educational opportunity.

Although this is a painful history to confront, we owe a debt of gratitude to the NAACP for decades of legal challenges first led by attorney Charles Hamilton Houston and later attorney Thurgood Marshall, along with a formidable legal team. Their long legal battle demanded that the United States Supreme Court answer the 14th amendment question of equal protection of the law.  The high court met their demands by ruling unanimously on May 17, 1954 in Brown v. the Board of Education.  The landmark ruling dismantled the legal framework for laws intended to disenfranchise African Americans.  Even then, it required civil disobedience, sit-ins and loss of life to convince the federal legislative branch to pass laws designed to codify the rights of African Americans.

The Brown decision compelled the United States to reckon with its history and confront the dichotomy of a national creed that lauded “liberty and justice for all,” during a time when constitutional protection was routinely denied to people of color.

As the New York Times wrote in a 2018 editorial, “the Brown decision represents the most powerful invocation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause in the court’s history, its correctness not in dispute”.

Nonetheless, we appear again to be at a crossroads between the promise of equality, fairness and justice articulated in our founding documents and ill-conceived systems that foster disparities.

Established in 1988, the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research has a mission to build upon the work of the courageous individuals who stood with the NAACP as plaintiffs in the cases consolidated as Brown v. Board of Education, to ensure equal opportunity for African Americans and all disenfranchised groups. 

Our cornerstone as a Foundation is to keep the tenets and ideals of the Brown decision relevant for present and future generations through public programs, historic preservation, increasing the presence of teachers of color, civil engagement and advocacy. 

As allies for justice we have an obligation to show up, stand up and speak up against oppression.  The power we seek is in our voice and the change we seek is in our vote.

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New Educational and Historical Resource from the Brown Foundation

Recovering Untold Stories: An Enduring Legacy of the Brown v. Board of Education Decision was initiated in 2016 by The Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research, funded by the Hall Center for the Humanities, University of Kansas and The Walton Family Foundation, published by the University of Kansas Libraries. The project was intended to capture the first-person narratives of individuals who were plaintiffs or whose families were represented in the five cases consolidated by the United States Supreme Court in an opinion announced on May 17, 1954. The Court consolidated cases from Delaware, Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., under the single heading of the Kansas case, commonly known as Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka. However, the legal citation is Oliver L. Brown, et al. v. the Board of Education of Topeka (KS), et al.

We focused on the “et al.,” pronounced “et-ahl,” which is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase “et alia,” meaning “and others.” The United States judicial system uses this phrase as a reference in class action litigation in place of listing the names of all plaintiffs. In the instance of Brown v. the Board of Education, those four letters relegate several hundred men, women and children to what can be characterized as “legal wasteland,” rendering them largely unknown. This project uncovers and publishes some of their stories to provide a glimpse into the role of ordinary people who found themselves in the center of an extraordinary historic milestone.


Individuals involved in the cases consolidated under Brown v. Board participated in a series of in-person workshops convened by The Brown Foundation onsite at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. The workshops were facilitated by Cheryl Brown Henderson, Founding President of The Brown Foundation, and four University of Kansas scholars: Deborah Dandridge, Curator African American Experience Collections, Kenneth Spencer Research Library; John Edgar Tidwell, English Professor; Darren Canady, Playwright and Associate Professor of English; and Vincent Omni, Graduate Teaching Assistant, English Department. Workshop participants were guided through the process of writing a first-person narrative.

The results of their work are contained in this collection of essays, within which each person shares personal experiences, or those of their parents, offering us a better understanding of the risk, challenge and courage of African Americans who refused to be denied constitutional rights in the era of “Jim Crow” laws.

In the following quotation from his 1994 book, Crusaders in the Courts: How a Dedicated Band of Lawyers Fought for the Civil Rights Revolution 1st Edition, Attorney Jack Greenberg, member of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s legal team in Brown, poignantly refers to the numerous individuals who are embedded within the legal shorthand “et. al.”: "Before lawyers can win cases there have to be clients willing to stand up for their rights. The American Blacks who proved willing to fight segregation and discrimination were organized for the most part by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), in an environment hostile to change in the kind of justice afforded Blacks."

This is a not for profit project, cost recovery only for print on demand.  Read online at http://hdl.handle.net/1808/27702 or order a hard copy via print on demand https://www.kubookstore.com/p-147781.aspx.  

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