Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Brown v Board of Education NHS

Imagine having a school just a few blocks -- within a short walk -- from your house but being told you couldn't go there.  Instead, you have to go to a school several miles away.  That was the case in Topeka, KS for local minister Oliver Brown's daughter.

Monroe Elementary School
Contrary to popular belief, however, this case did not begin with a defiant black family boldly marching their daughter to the white school and demanding she be registered.  Instead, it was part of a systematic and deliberate yet peaceful effort to dismantle segregation by the NAACP.  The landmark Supreme Court case was actually comprised of cases from four states plus DC.  In Topeka, 20 children from 13 families -- 13 families made up of ordinary people that were teachers, welders, secretaries, ministers, and the like -- were convinced to attempt to enroll in the all-white school closest to their house.  They were all denied.  Despite the ruling, however, the US District Court stated that having separate facilities was detrimental to the negro children, paving the way for a more far-reaching Supreme Court ruling.  Finally, in the Fall of 1953, the Supreme Court did rule that separate-but-equal school facilities were unconstitutional.

Brown v Board of Education NHS is housed in Monroe Elementary School, the school Linda Brown attended prior to attempting to enroll in the all-white school closer to her house.  It is remarkably well-preserved, although most of the classrooms have been converted into exhibit halls that tell the story of the civil rights struggle.

Kindergarten Classroom Restored

The kindergarten classroom has been restored to it's original appearance and offers a window into what school was like. Toys line the walls as you would expect in any kindergarten classroom whether today or sixty years ago. A piano lets kids express their creativity while also giving them a chance to learn music. A fireplace was placed in the classroom to downplay the sterility and provide kids a sense of comfort and hominess.  And portraits of American heroes line one wall, giving teachers conversation starters about people important to their history -- George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass.

Civil Rights Exhibits
The civil rights exhibits really make this site. It was so well done, that, for me, it's one of my favorite NPS sites to date.  They of course tell the story of the historic court case, but it provides timelines and important milestones in ways kids can easily comprehend. For adults, there are pictures, video clips, and sound bites that poignantly depict what it must have been like for those that bravely dared to challenge the status quo or even for those that didn't and found themselves thrust in the middle of a movement that frequently saw raw emotions on both sides. I couldn't help but walk out of there with a new appreciation for what it must have felt like to live that life every day and a renewed commitment to treat every human being with dignity and respect -- to seek first to understand before judging -- kinda like the Golden Rule.

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