South Puget Sound Community College event to honor school desegregation ruling

‘Celebrating Brown’ will feature re-enactment of landmark Brown v. Board of Education arguments

ahobbs@theolympian.comMay 16, 2014 

Linda Smith, the former Linda Brown, stands in front of the Sumner School in Topeka, Kan., on May 8, 1964. The refusal of the public school to admit Brown in 1951, then age 9, because she is black led to the Brown v. Board of Education court case. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the 'separate but equal' clause and mandated that schools nationwide must be desegregated. (AP Photo)


Next week, South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia will honor the 60th anniversary of the landmark court case Brown v. Board of Education, which struck down racial segregation in public schools.

Considered a milestone in the civil rights movement, the case stemmed from a class action lawsuit filed by 13 parents against the board of education in Topeka, Kansas. On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that “in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place” and that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

As a tribute to the ruling, SPSCC’s Artist and Lecture Series will present “Celebrating Brown” on May 23. The public is invited to attend a re-enactment at 3 p.m. of the oral arguments with members of the Washington Supreme Court, followed by an audience discussion. The free event will take place at the Kenneth J. Minnaert Center for the Arts. At 6 p.m., a dinner in the Student Union Building will feature keynote speaker Cheryl Brown Henderson, whose parents filed the original lawsuit.

Lacey City Councilman Virgil Clarkson is part of the community planning committee that is organizing the celebration. Clarkson said the idea surfaced about two years ago after meeting students who didn’t know anything about Brown v. Board of Education or the court ruling’s lasting impact.

“That is a very important part of our history,” he said.

Clarkson, 82, also plans to share his views on civil rights and educational opportunities before the 1954 ruling. The year before, he had graduated from Texas Southern University — known at the time as Texas State University for Negroes — with degrees in mathematics and physics. In the past 60 years, the United States has yet to fully realize the court ruling’s intent, he said.

“Desegregation has occurred,” Clarkson said, “But integration is one of the truly unfounded conclusions of the 20th century.”

Planning committee member and local attorney Rick Hughes also touted the court ruling’s historical importance.

“Brown paved the way for sweeping legislation in the form of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act,” Hughes said in a news release, “which affected almost every aspect of how we live in America.”

If you go

The dinner with keynote speaker Cheryl Brown Henderson will begin at 6 p.m. May 23 at South Puget Sound Community College’s Student Union Building, 2011 Mottman Road SW. Tickets for the dinner are $30 each and are available at or by calling 360-596-5430.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869

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