In honor of Black History Month, Sen. Coons and Rep. Clyburn reintroduce bill to commemorate multi-state Brown v. Board of Education sites
National Trust for Historic Preservation and its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund join legislators on new designations
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) reintroduced legislation to honor and commemorate the historic sites that contributed to the 1954 landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The purpose of this legislation is to expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site to include historic sites in South Carolina and designate National Park Service (NPS) Affiliated Areas in other states. It would recognize the importance of the additional sites that catalyzed litigation in Delaware, South Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, and expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas. The legislation was crafted in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In the Senate, the bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
“The preservation of historic sites connected to the Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, is an important step in remembering the painful but significant impact the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine had on our nation,” said Senator Coons. “I was raised just a few hundred yards away from the historic Hockessin Colored School – one of the segregated schools that played a role in the Brown v. Board of Education case. Despite this, it was not until law school that I first learned that two cases successfully challenging Delaware’s segregated school system eventually made their way to the Supreme Court and became part of the Brown decision. These Delaware cases are an example of what our nation can accomplish when we face the future by confronting the impact of our past. That’s why this Black History Month, I’m working with Whip Clyburn to honor and commemorate the sites in Delaware and across the country that shaped the history of this landmark decision.”
“Black History Month is acknowledged in February, but we must remember and memorialize the history of black people throughout the year,” said Whip Clyburn. “I am pleased to reintroduce legislation that recognizes all Brown v. Board of Education sites for their contributions to ending segregation in our nation’s schools. This legislative initiative is very personal for me as the case that eventually ended the practice of legal segregation, Briggs v. Elliot, originated in Summerton, South Carolina. I was honored to know many of the plaintiffs who spearheaded this fight for equality and remain committed to telling their stories to ensure a promising future for generations to come.”
“South Carolina played a prominent role in one of the most consequential Supreme Court decisions in the history of our nation,” said Senator Graham. “It is important we protect and preserve these historical sites so future generations can learn from them. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate to advance this important legislation.”
“Nearly 70 years ago, 16-year-old Barbara Johns led a walkout with all 450 of her fellow Black classmates at the Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia, to protest school segregation. Ms. Johns’ student-led demonstration spearheaded one of the five cases that would head to the Supreme Court under the Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit,” said Senator Warner. “As we honor Barbara Johns’ legacy in the halls of Congress with her statue, I’m pleased to join in this effort to commemorate the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site and recognize the vital role played by the Moton School in Farmville in ending school segregation.”
“Those involved in the five cases that formed Brown v. Board of Education altered the future of countless Americans, leading the way for contemporary Civil Rights activism,” said Senator Tim Scott. “I am so proud to participate in bipartisan legislation that commemorates the struggle for education equality, particularly as the bill includes two locations significant to the Briggs v. Elliot case in Summerton, South Carolina. Our bill will ensure that the history behind the Brown decision will not be forgotten.”
“The landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, that put an end to the inherently unequal ‘separate but equal’ doctrine, stands as one of the most consequential Supreme Court decisions, and in fact, a number of Delawareans played a critical role in this historic case. That’s why this Black History Month, I’m proud to be joining my colleagues in introducing a bill that would allow us to preserve and share Delaware’s contributions to ending school segregation so we never forget our nation's fight for justice,” said Senator Carper. “The Hockessin Colored School, Claymont Community Center and Howard High School are not just buildings; they are community centers, places of learning and gathering spaces that are still used today to help our communities make social progress and their histories should be shared with generations to come. I believe by remembering our nation’s long fight for equality, we can truly understand just how far we have come and why it is ever more important to continue to keep pushing to build a ‘more perfect Union’ for all Americans.”
“Kansan Linda Brown and her parents took their case all the way to the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, leading to the overturn of the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine that discriminated against school children because of their skin color,” said Senator Moran. “This legislation will expand and preserve the historic sites in Kansas and around the country connected to this case. Kansas has played a key role in the civil rights movement, and we must seek to preserve this legacy which calls on all Americans to uphold the self-evident truth that all men and women are created equal.”
“Brown v. Board of Education was a watershed moment in America’s fight for equality. This Black History Month, I’m pleased to join this bipartisan effort to honor the historic sites connected to the case,” said Senator Kaine. “I’m especially proud this effort includes the Moton Museum, former home of the Moton School, where 16-year-old Barbara Johns led a protest over the intolerable conditions for Black students in Farmville, Virginia. It’s critical we protect these sites so that future generations can better understand and appreciate all those who worked to propel our nation towards our founding principal of equality for all.”
“Passage of this legislation will help us tell the full story of Brown v. Board of Education by elevating and protecting these powerful historic places and the inspiring stories of people who have not previously had their story told on a national stage,” said Katherine Malone-France, the Chief Preservation Officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was described by constitutional scholar Louis H. Pollak as “probably the most important American government act of any kind since the Emancipation Proclamation.” The Brown decision transformed the United States, striking down the separate-but-equal doctrine established by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. The Plessy decision was the linchpin that condoned and entrenched legalized segregation across the South, despite protections clearly stated in the U.S. Constitution and underscored by the 14th and 15th Amendments.
These laws stayed in placed for nearly 100 years after Reconstruction, but pioneering civil rights lawyers like Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, William Hastie, Constance Baker Motley, Louis Lorenzo Redding, and others challenged the constitutionality of segregation and won. The Brown decision ended the practice of legalized segregation in educational facilities and was a major catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s.
The history of Brown v. Board of Education is represented in our national consciousness by a single building, Monroe School, which is a National Historic Site located in Topeka, Kansas. This limited geographic scope condenses public memory of these events and inadvertently fails to recognize the contributions of the other communities in Claymont, Delaware; Hockessin, Delaware; Wilmington, Delaware; Summerton, South Carolina; Farmville, Virginia; and the District of Columbia that were also important to the fight for equality and that saw their cases consolidated with the Brown case. The geographic dispersion of these locations demonstrates that Brown v. Board of Education is truly a story of a national struggle with national significance.
“Recognizing Hockessin Colored School #107 as an affiliated area of the National Park System is a fitting tribute to Delaware’s unique role in the Brown decision,” said the Honorable Collins J. Seitz, Jr., Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court. “Of the five cases appealed in Brown, the Delaware decision in Belton v. Gebhart – requiring the immediate admission of African American students to schools attended by white children – was the only appeal affirmed by the Supreme Court.”
“The family of Louis L. Redding commends the preservation of these historic schools as reminders of the hard-won rights of African Americans to equal access in education,” said JB Redding, on behalf of the family of Louis L. Redding, Delaware’s first Black attorney and the lawyer who argued the Delaware school desegregation cases. “Further, their existence serves as a reminder that the struggle for full implementation of these rights continues.”
“With the path to the infamous Brown v. Board of Education beginning its genesis in Summerton, South Carolina, with the Briggs v. Elliott case, the Clarendon School District One’s Board of Trustees and residents of the local community are humbled and honored to have two historic facilities entrusted to the National Park Service,” said Clarendon Superintendent Barbara Champagne. “The designation of the Summerton School and the Scott’s Branch School is steeped in the authentic American story of the journey for equality and equity. The voices of those courageous men and women who were given the vision for better opportunities and for equitable resources will not remain silent or forgotten. Instead, their voices will echo through the annals of history as a reminder of what can be achieved through determination, perseverance, and faith.”
“The Robert R. Moton Museum is excited to join with communities involved in the historic Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision. In seeking to become an affiliated area of the National Park Service, we know this affiliation will allow us the opportunity to better collaborate with other communities involved in the historic Brown decision as we work to ensure that countless individuals have the opportunity to know of the courage and sacrifice that citizens made towards equality in education,” said Cameron D. Patterson, Executive Director of the Robert R. Moton Museum. “The Moton Museum Board of Trustees, Moton Museum Community Council, and our partner institution Longwood University in offering their support towards this effort, recognize that the resources and benefits offered from this affiliation with the National Park Service will only strengthen our ability to fulfill our mission as a museum.”
The creation of NPS Affiliated Areas in Delaware, Virginia, and the District of Columbia for sites associated with the Brown v. Board of Education case and an expansion of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site to include the related sites in South Carolina provides an opportunity for these sites to tell their own uplifting, under-recognized stories of students, parents, and their allies who helped shape American society.
Enactment of this legislation has the potential to appropriately recognize the sites associated with the other four court cases and help them to combine current uses with preservation and public education. In collaboration with local partners and other stakeholders, the National Trust will continue their collective work to bring recognition to communities that fought for school integration, helping these sites to tell their own history of the Brown v. Board of Education case and make connections to other communities engaged in the fight for educational equity, past and present.
The bill text is available here.
About the National Trust for Historic Preservation
The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a privately funded nonprofit organization that works to save America’s historic places. Visit http://www.savingplaces.org
About the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund
The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund is a multi-year initiative led by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in partnership with the Ford Foundation, the JPB Foundation, the Open Society Foundations and other partners, working to make an important and lasting contribution to our cultural landscape by elevating the stories and places of African American achievement and activism. Visit http://www.savingplaces.org/actionfund