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Wilson Peace Symposium: Brown at 70: The Path Forward

Wilson Peace Symposium: Brown at 70: The Path Forward
Samantha Jones

The third annual Wilson Peace Symposium is the culminating spring event for the Karson Institute for Race, Peace, and Social Justice. This year’s theme highlights the 70th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, a relevant conversation that Assistant Professor Miya Carey-Agyemang, Ph.D. believes it’s important to have now as civil rights are being rolled back on the chopping block. 

“We should think critically about the Civil Rights Movement and the wins and losses,” Carey Agyemang said. “There were so many gains in that period in terms of access to education and the Voting Rights Act. The Civil Rights Movement catalyzed movements such as Black Power, Women’s Rights, and Gay Liberation.”

Brown vs. Board of Education was enacted on May 17, 1964, when the Supreme Court decided that segregated schools were unconstitutional and that children needed to be educated in equal environments. Founder and Executive Director Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead said the Supreme Court’s decision integrated public spaces, but did not lead to a change in attitudes in the United States. 

“You had schools in the South that heard the decision, but they weren’t willing to let Black children in. So, Black children and teenagers who were willing to put their lives on the line such as Ruby Bridges and Little Rock Nine to go into these all-white environments and be the test case for integration,” Whitehead said. 

Jim Crow laws were dismantled legally by Brown vs. Board of Education, but inequities continued to permeate the American educational system. Whitehead said Brown vs. Board of Education ended Jim Crow on paper, but not in reality, procedures, processes, or in the ways people respond to one another. As a former Baltimore City middle school teacher, she said Jane Crow has been born in place of Jim Crow. 

“I often talk about Jane Crow, which is the arm of education and the way it exists after Jim Crow. You still have schools in predominantly Black communities that are severely underfunded that are challenged and falling apart. They don’t have the same type of resources that predominantly white schools in the county would have or even what predominantly white private schools would have,” Whitehead said. 

Carey-Agyemang said if it weren’t for Brown vs. Board of Education, she would not be a professor at Loyola if. Moreover, she recognizes that despite this, there is so much more to be done to move further in terms of progress. Program Director for Curriculum and Instruction Stephanie Flores-Koulish, Ph.D, says she can’t answer the question in terms of a binary response as she operates in gray areas. 

“I think it was a success in the ways it opened many other civil rights doors for people of color in general. I think what perceived it as less of a success was that it allowed for navigating around the law to maintain white supremacy and segregation in not only schools, but other systems,” Flores-Koulish said. 

The Karson Institute offers a space for students of all races and ethnicities to have open conversations. Dr. Whitehead says to have full integration in society means everybody coming together and everybody having a place at the table.

“It’s important for us to reflect on history and not be afraid of the ugly truths of our past. I think if we can wrestle through feeling uncomfortable with content and topics, we can make the world a better place,” Dr. Flores- Koulish said. 

Generation-Z is the newest generation carrying the responsibility of participating in our democratic government as we enter a new election cycle. Flores-Koulish said students should remain informed, ask critical questions about the way issues are presented and practice media literacy to push past myths and disinformation. 

“I know people’s time is limited, but if you can, keep an eye on what is said at these school board meetings. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your lawmakers, especially on the local level, if you are seeing something disturbing or you don’t like,” Carey-Agyemang said. 

The Karson Institute will be hosting events to close out the semester such as a study day on April 30 and National Day of Action on May 3. Karson Institute for Race, Peace, and Social Justice will be partnering with other universities across the country to stand against the banning of books and Black, Women’s, LGBTQIA+, and Hispanic history.

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