The Benefit of Brown:
Providing Opportunity for Those Who Want It
by David Almasi
At a recent press conference in the U.S. Capitol, black political
activist Mychal Massie noted: "I stand here cognizant of
the fact that, not many years ago, my mother could have hoped
only to scrub the floors here. But, today, I stand here addressing
the nation. I am aware than my son can one day stand here and
address the world."
Massie was a year old when the U.S. Supreme
Court integrated public schools through its decision in Brown
v. Board of Education. His mother, a single parent, was a
Because of the opportunities provided
by Brown 50 years ago this May, Mychal received a quality education
and started his own business. His son will represent the United
States at the Olympics this summer and is expected to bring home
medals in cycling.
The Brown ruling didn't guarantee Mychal
the life he's enjoyed. His mother warned him: "Mychal, the
world's your oyster; it's up to you to figure out how to open
By tearing down racial barriers to education,
Brown let all children take advantage of the best in American
learning. Once they applied themselves, black children could
compete fairly in the job market. With added skills and wealth,
the remaining racial barriers soon fell.
There was an immediate improvement in
black education. In 1960, the percentage of blacks with a high
school diploma or more was just 20.1 percent. Those with at least
college degree was only 3.1 percent. Both figures were less than
half of the proportion of their white counterparts. By 2000,
78.5 percent of blacks had a high school education or better,
and 16.5 percent had at least a college degree. White numbers
rose to 84.5 percent and 26.1 percent, respectively.
In 1990, black college graduates had
an unemployment rate of only 1.9 percent.
Incomes naturally rose. In 1959, a two-adult
black family earned just 57 percent as much as their white counterparts.
By 1990, this figure rose to 84 percent. Since Brown, black family
incomes have risen three times faster than the nation's families
as a whole.
Poverty rates have fallen. In 1959, 61
percent of black children in stable families lived in poverty.
By 1995, it was only 13 percent. A correlation exists between
poverty and education. Blacks without a high school degree are
four times as likely to be living in poverty than those with
at least a college degree.
No one ever said Brown eradicated racism.
Petty jealousy and muddled thinking will forever fuel racism,
and those with racist intent will sometimes achieve positions
of power. The Brown precedent, along with civil rights laws and
enforcement agencies, protect Americans from the tyranny of these
But what about the "soft bigotry
of low expectations"?
After an early surge in standardized
test scores of black 17-year-olds, scores are now dropping in
subjects like math, reading and writing. There is no similar
drop among these students' white counterparts.
Massie, a member of the black conservative
network Project 21, blames "parental failure, the inclusion
of negative cultural ideologies to the exclusion of sound biblical
truths, the lack of discipline and the unwavering acceptance
of failure as being the fault of someone else." He adds:
"Today's educational system is much like today's political
system. It is about self-preservation. The more failures they
can point to, the more money they can ask for to fix said problems."
Massie worries about the disincentive
of "getting good grades [and] being like 'whitey.'"
Massie's concerns are echoed by Mike Green, another Project 21
member. Green laments: "Our ancestors died in slavery, dreaming
of the day when their descendents would be able to read, write
and compete in this country on a level with the best of white
children. That day has come, and far too many squander those
Brown opened the schoolhouse doors for
Otis Brown's daughters in 1954. Mychal Massie, Mike Green and
countless others all received a quality education as a result
of Brown and subsequently enjoy their own personal and professional
successes. They also benefit from a motivation to succeed.
Black America has benefited greatly from
the legacy of the Brown desegregation decision, but it's
a stepping stone on a long journey. It opened doors surging with
takers, but the tide shows signs of waning. Turning around this
disappointing trend is not something that can be achieved in
a courtroom. It can only come from inside.
David Almasi is staff director of the African-American leadership network Project 21. This commentary is condensed from a longer essay appearing in the May 2004 issue of The World and I. Comments may be sent to [email protected].
Published May 2004 by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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