Black Student Union Leads Discussion on History of African-American Education

Photo by Pauline Park

The Black Student Union, or BSU, sponsored a discussion last Friday to evaluate our current education system and look over how it has changed over the years.

At the event, three students, Jean Claudeson, Jihad Peele and Shania Thomas, together gave a presentation about the Brown v. Board of Education case.

Thomas started off the presentation giving background information about the history-altering lawsuit between Oliver Brown and the Board of Education that took place in Topeka, Kansas in 1954.

“The lawsuit was to abolish the segregation of education systems, to stop the separation of blacks and whites,” said Thomas.

Before going into the specifics of the case, Thomas discussed the impact of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, better known as the NAACP, which was founded in 1909.

For its first twenty years, the NAACP attempted to persuade Congress and other legislative bodies to protect African-Americans from lynching and other racially-charged acts of violence. In the 1930s the NAACP turned its attention to rooting out discrimination in the education system, dedicating its legal defense and education fund resources to the cause.

Claudeson and Peele then took over and went into the details of the Brown v. Board of Education case. The incident began when third-grader Linda Brown wanted to attend the whites-only school in Topeka. The school offered a higher quality of education and was much closer than her school. However, she was denied acceptance because she was black.

Her father, Oliver Brown, along with NAACP representatives, brought their case to the courts, saying the school’s refusal to include black students violated the town constitution's Equal Protection Clause, as the school for black students was not held to the same standards as the school for white students.

The Fourteenth Amendment, which addresses equal protection and citizenship laws, helped Brown’s case.

Brown v. Board of Education was actually a total of five different cases heard by the Supreme Court about racial segregation in schools. While each case involved different details, the main issue at the core of all five cases was the same.

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Brown and came to the consensus that racial segregation in schools should be banned altogether.

Following the presentation was a student discussion on how the education system would have looked if the Supreme Court did not rule against segregation and how the lives of African-Americans would be different and if race issues in the North were better than the South during the 1950s through 1970s and even now.

Some students at the session felt that segregation still exists in education, to some extent, because, they explained, black students who attend mostly African-American schools do not learn much past the “basics.” Some students felt they came to college without having a good foundation for learning, and therefore, were a few steps behind. Many students voiced that the Brown v. Education case made segregation in schools legally prohibited, but not socially prohibited.

According to Thomas, the goal of the presentation was for students to learn history and discuss personal experiences and hardships. She wanted the event “to educate students at Ramapo College about issues of Brown v. Board of Education,” and provide a chance “to talk about segregation in schools and try to relate it to how far we’ve gotten or even if we’ve gotten far.”