Brown v. Board: A celebration

Volume 28 Number 5

May 17 marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark decision in school desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education. From local news pieces to film festivals, bar associations across the country have found some great ways to celebrate.

The ABA Commission on the 50th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education was involved with three events earlier this year. One was a debate conducted at the ABA Midyear Meeting in San Antonio and broadcast on National Public Radio. Another was a discussion between lawyers and judges and high school students in the Detroit metropolitan area, followed by the third event, a daylong academic symposium in conjunction with the National Bar Association and Detroit’s Wayne State University.

In late April, the Commission plans to hold a moderated discussion at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, covering hypothetical scenarios arising from Brown. A mock “reargument” of the case, to be conducted at the ABA Annual Meeting in Atlanta this August, will complete the year’s worth of celebrations. The reargument will be set in the present day and will look at jurisdictions where the 2004 level of resegregation exceeds 1954’s level of segregation.

At press time, many bars were still finalizing their programs. Here’s a glimpse at what some bars have done in recent months or still have in the works.

Alabama State Bar

The ASB has added a new event to its roster of Law Week activities: an original drama, Separate No More: Brown v. Board of Education and the People Who Lived It. The play, with the assistance of a director who is well known in the Montgomery area, will be presented during Law Week at the Supreme Court of Alabama. Several performances are planned for school groups, as well as night performances for the community.

Boston Bar Association

The BBA and its Diversity Committee are planning a program that celebrates Brown while also addressing the fact that there’s more work to be done. The principal focus will be on how educational policies for K-12 and higher education can shape the pipeline for lawyers of color.

In addition, the bar will make Brown the focus of its annual Law Day program in partnership with the Boston Public Schools for K-12 students. More than 100 lawyer volunteers will visit classrooms the week of May 3 for interactive discussions with students on Brown and on the work yet to be done.

Students who participate in Eighth Grade Academy, an after-school program in which lawyers mentor and coach eighth-graders, will have the opportunity to participate in a teach-in that will feature role plays and breakout groups. The breakout groups will also address racial discrimination and present-day discrimination against students based on sexual orientation or disability.

Dallas Bar Association

DBA President Rhonda Hunter has made education and Brown v. Board her theme for 2004. The bar has a number of projects in the works, some ongoing throughout the year.

Its monthly publication, Headnotes, has been running periodic articles regarding the historical aspects of the case and its local connections.

Hunter has appointed a committee that is working with eight public school districts plus private schools in the Dallas area on ways to educate children about Brown. The committee has also asked Dallas churches to ring their bells on May 17 at 12:52 p.m. (the minute the decision was announced).

ABA President Dennis W. Archer will speak on Brown at a Law Day luncheon on May 14.

DuPage County (Ill.) Bar Association

The DCBA’s magazine, The Brief, sponsored an essay contest open to lawyers and nonlawyers. The essays were to cover any aspect of Brown, such as its impact on our culture and the doctrine of stare decisis. The Brief is considering publishing the top three essays.

The bar has also contacted all high schools in its area regarding conducting a Dialogue on Brown v. Board of Education, an interactive discussion program from the ABA Division for Public Education. Thus far, the bar anticipates that two such Dialogues will take place, likely later in the school year.

Hillsborough County (Fla.) Bar Association

The HCBA, in conjunction with the school district and courts, is producing a video on Brown and related issues. The video will feature individual interviews and panel discussions. It will be played in the schools and on the local education channel, and will also be shown at the bar’s Law Day luncheon on May 5.

Idaho State Bar

In February, Idaho Chief Federal District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill presented a lecture on Brown v. Board to more than 85 people, including recent graduates of the ISB’s Citizens’ Law Academy, for which Judge Winmill is an instructor.

Judge Winmill discussed the historical backdrop for the decision and explained how it helped spark further civil rights decisions and the demonstrations that resulted in legislative victories as well. He also mentioned recent cases involving affirmative action and emphasized the importance of the rule of law in our system.

The presentation concluded with the showing of a documentary called The Road to Brown and a tour of a traveling display that showcases African American judges who have served on the bench for the Federal District Courts and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Each participant received a copy of an ABA brochure, produced for the Dialogue on Brown v. Board of Education program, that covers the history of the case and includes several discussion starting scenarios.

Lancaster (Pa.) Bar Association

The Lancaster bar has invited all the area mock trial teams—along with their teacher advisers and attorney coaches—to gather at a luncheon with Court of Common Pleas judges and possibly a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice and several U.S. District Court judges. Also in attendance will be the LBA board of directors and attorneys who served as jurors for the competition. The bar will lead a discussion with all present about Brown v. Board of Education.

The LBA anticipates that more than 100 students and members of the legal community will attend the luncheon, scheduled for May 3, 2004.

Louisiana State Bar Association

On April 23, the LSBA, in cooperation with the Louisiana Center for Law and Civic Education, will host approximately 300 high school students from around the state at an event called “Brown v. Board of Education: A Lesson on Courage.”

The program will begin with a storyteller who will show the students what happened from the time of Plessy v. Ferguson to the time of Brown. A panel discussion will follow; the panelists will include Justice Bernette J. Johnson (the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court of Louisiana) and U.S. Marshal Charles Burke (the marshal who escorted Ruby Bridges, the New Orleans public school pupil who in 1960 helped touch off desegregation by attending a previously all-white elementary school).

The program will also feature a question and answer session and interactive breakout sessions.

Maryland State Bar Association

On May 3, MSBA President Harry S. Johnson, other bar members, and other community leaders will present a dramatic reading of excerpts from Brown at a theater in Baltimore. The reading will be followed by a dialogue involving the audience.

The bar’s Public Awareness Committee is planning a Brown-themed Student/Teacher/Lawyer Conference, an all-day educational event to be held May 18.

The bar, which has had a general-purpose speakers’ bureau for some time, has added a Brown v. Board of Education Speakers’ Bureau. The bar has recruited more than 50 volunteer attorneys willing to speak to community groups about Brown; several speaking engagements have been scheduled thus far.

Monroe County (N.Y.) Bar Association

The MCBA is partnering with a local news station to produce a brief piece on the Brown decision and its impact on the Rochester area. The video clip will feature interviews with several bar members, including members who have belonged to the bar for 50 years or more. It will be shown at the bar’s Law Day luncheon and featured on the local news.

Nebraska State Bar Association

For its annual meeting in October, the NSBA has chosen the theme “Celebrating Equal Justice.” At the meeting, a two-hour play called Thurgood Marshall’s Coming will be presented. In the play, an actor portrays Marshall—who argued for Brown in the landmark case—at various points in his life.

New York State Bar Association

The Robert H. Jackson Center, Jamestown, N.Y., is sponsoring a Brown essay contest for high school students, in partnership with the NYSBA’s Law, Youth & Citizenship program.

There will also be a dinner in Jamestown honoring sisters Linda Brown Thompson and Cheryl Brown Henderson, who will be in attendance. Following a keynote speech by former U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, there will be a roundtable discussion with the Brown sisters.
Teachers chosen as judges for the essay contest will receive a paid trip to attend the dinner.

Oakland County (Mich.) Bar Association

The OCBA is part of a collaborative effort with the ABA, the National Bar Association, the D. Augustus Straker Bar Association, the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association, the Federal Bar Association, the Macomb County Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan, and the Wolverine Bar Association. Through this team effort, the bars involved will participate in Dialogues on Brown with high school students in three counties.

For its part, the OCBA matched 60 volunteer lawyers and judges with 30 area high schools; the resulting Dialogues took place this past March. The OCBA is especially pleased that the recruiting effort brought a positive response from members who are not typically heavily involved with the bar.

The bar worked with the D. Augustus Straker Bar Association to ensure that the majority of the teams assigned to the schools were racially diverse.

Pennsylvania Bar Association

Linda Brown Thompson and Cheryl Brown Henderson will be the featured speakers at the PBA’s Law Day luncheon on May 7. The daughters will address their family’s participation in the case and its effects on education and the civil rights movement.

The luncheon will be co-sponsored by the bar’s Law-Related Education and Minority Bar committees. The PBA is soliciting sponsorship support from law firms, local bars, and other groups, including the NAACP. All luncheon proceeds will benefit the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research and the Pennsylvania Bar Foundation.

Rhode Island Bar Association

The RIBA will help seventh- through 12th-graders celebrate Law Day and learn about Brown via lesson plans for teachers and classroom or assembly visits from teams of Rhode Island judges and lawyers.

The bar has put together Brown-related information and teaching aid packets that combine materials from the ABA, a national program called Street Law, and articles from the New York Times.

This year, the RIBA’s annual Law Day essay contest for students focuses on how Brown affects today’s citizens. The winner will receive a personal trophy from bar President John M. Roney, another trophy for his or her school to keep for a year, and a court internship during which the student will attend trials and learn firsthand about law-related careers.

Utah State Bar

There will be a number of events throughout the state of Utah, coordinated by the USB and/or by the state’s local and special-focus bars.

The Litigation Section of the USB, along with local bars, worked to recruit lawyers to present Dialogues on Brown; the USB handled coordinating the events.

The Utah Minority Bar Association has converted its annual essay contest into a letter to the editor program. In partnership with the Utah Press Association, letters regarding to Brown and its relevance to the state of Utah may be published in local newspapers, primarily in May.

The Salt Lake County Bar Association has expanded its annual Art and the Law Contest to incorporate the Brown v. Board theme.

The USB is helping produce a set of curriculum materials and additional materials for teachers. Local public broadcasting station KUED is producing a related television program.

Finally, the USB is working with the state’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Fairness to coordinate a “film festival” in which films on Brown and related topics will be shown in local libraries and other community venues. The bar has offered its assistance to any schools in the state that are interested in presenting the films in their area.

State Bar of Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s first lady, Jessica Doyle, participated in a Brown-themed “Lawyers for Learning” program on March 9, initiated by SBW President George Burnett. Approximately 75 fifth-graders at a Madison elementary school participated, using a curriculum designed by Mike Tobin of the Wisconsin Public Defender’s office.

The bar’s Wisconsin Lawyer magazine will include a feature article on Lloyd Barbee, an attorney who was a leader in the Milwaukee NAACP in 1963 when the NAACP challenged segregation there, beginning with the Milwaukee Public Schools.

At its annual meeting in May, the SBW will present a CLE spotlight program on Brown and where things stand 50 years later. NAACP Chair Julian Bond is the keynote speaker; a panel discussion on Brown’s effect on Wisconsin law will follow his presentation.

Also at the annual meeting, the bar’s Diversity Outreach Committee and Government Lawyers Division will offer a CLE program featuring judges and attorneys who will discuss the status of equality in education in Wisconsin. The participants will discuss whether all Wisconsin children have access to a good education, and why alternatives to public education have been developed.

For more information on Dialogue on Brown v. Board of Education, and other ways to celebrate, visit www.abanet.org/brown/home.html

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