Five members of the U-M community
recall the impact of the 1954 case
that outlawed racial segregation in schools
By Deborah Meyers Greene
2004 U-M Theme Semester
In 1954, the Supreme Court changed the course
of American history. Its decision in Brown v. Board of
Education ended legal segregation in public education,
energized the civil rights movement and engaged the country
in a national conversation about race and rights that continues
to this day.
The University of Michigan is in the midst
of a semester-long commemoration of the Brown v. Board decision,
to take stock of this difficult and yet hopeful half-century
in American race relations.
The website http://www.umich.edu/~urel/brown50/is
a clearinghouse for the commemoration's events, speakers,
classes and community projects. Check on it for the most up-to-date
information on the Theme Semester.
On May 17, 1954, in Brown v Board of
Education of Topeka, Kansas , the United States Supreme Court
unanimously declared an end to the principle of “separate but equal”
in American education.
The University community contains many persons who recall the impact
of the Supreme Court's ruling in Brown upon their childhoods.
Some of them Michigan Today contacted said that the memories
continued to be too upsetting for them to discuss publicly. But
five members of the U-M community who lived through the turbulent
changes in the South in 1954 agreed to tell their stories.
The court's judgment in Brown is broadly recognized as
the first serious blow to the comprehensive system of laws collectively
referred to as “Jim Crow,” which codified separation of the races
and limited the freedom and options of former slaves in the South
following the Civil War.
As the stories below reveal, America's “peculiar institution” of
slavery and segregation fostered different patterns of awareness
and response in each individual. To some who grew up in the Jim
Crow South, the social arrangement was accepted as the norm, beyond
notice; for them, maturity and familiarity with other social arrangements
led to a rethinking of racial segregation. To others, an acute awareness
of injustice came early on, with daily reminders; they learned how
to endure and adapt to segregation, as well as how to resist and
Click below to read the individual stories:
• Richard W. Tillinghast, professor of English, director U-M Bear River Writers' Conference
• Adye Bel Evans, U-M librarian emerit
•Billy Joe Evans, professor emeritus of chemistry
• Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, professor of biological chemistry, professor of chemistry
• Lester Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs, professor of music, senior counselor to the president for the arts, diversity and undergraduate affairs