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Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka, KS
National Historic Site
Topeka, Kansas

A formerly-segregated school bears testimony to the decisions that ended ''Seperate but equal'' 50 years ago.

Traveling either east or west on I-70 through Topeka, Kansas one cannot miss the signs about the Brown vs Board of Education National Historic Site. The signs from the Interstate exit to the old school building are easy to follow.

Opened in May, 2004, 50 years after Thurgood Marshall won this case, the paint was barely dry when we visited.

The Park Service chose a formerly-segregated school building to house the displays. Upon entering, a tour guide gave us an excellent overview of the cases decided on May 17, 1954. He pointed out how the decision affected himself, an American Indian, not just African-Americans.

Inside, several galleries deal with various aspects of the school-segregation issue. They point out that it was not limited to the deep South -- indeed the most famous case originated in Topeka, Kansas. They tell about the 5 cases the Court heard, the individuals who brought them, and the lawyers who fought them.

Another gallery tells about the violence when schools integrated. Ruby Bridges appears here, as do other heroic black students. This section includes some real black-and-white footage of confrontations outside the schools. A sign outside this gallery warns of the offensive nature of some of the content. Actually, the gallery should not offend anyone. The offensive language and actions are decried in their historical perspective -- which is what anyone visiting a National Historic Site should expect.

The section I found unsettling compared school segregation to contemporary problems around the world. The site's creators considered "Economic justice", world hunger, and the fighting in Ireland problems on a par with school segregation. I disagree with linking these together. First, these problems are of a completely different nature than legislated segregation and doubtless have different solutions. Second, saying essentially, "We still have this same kind of problem today all around us", demeans the real difficulties black people faced 50 years ago. Finally, it demeans the progress that has been made, the progress that the site is designed to celebrate. This particular display is a shameless attempt to hijack the horror over past injustices into action, the action that seems best according to a particular political point of view, for completely unrelated issues. The bias of this display's creators becomes evident upon examination of the photo and caption for the fighting in Ireland.

The smallest caption here reads "Catholic students require police protection passing through a Protestant neighborhood." Notice that the little girl wears orange, the color of the Protestants, not the St Patrick's green we all know to associate with Irish Catholicism.

In other regards it's very well-done. We spent about an hour and a half and saw most of the displays. We did pass up the movie theater, so we should have planned another hour to see everything.

Simple Justice : The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality

Thurgood Marshalls Arguments Before the U S Supreme Court in Brown Vs the Board of Education: Classics of the Courtroom Volume XX
Official Website of the Brown vs Board of Education National Historic Site

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