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August 29, 2003

Landmark ruling turns 50
Yearlong campus observance marks Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation case

by Annette Hacker
A yearlong campus observance of the 50th anniversary of a landmark school desegregation case, Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka (Kan.), opens Sept. 17 with a lecture by journalist, author and former U.S. assistant attorney general Roger Wilkins.

The U. S. Supreme Court's May 17, 1954, ruling in the Brown appeal ended racial segregation in public schools and laid the groundwork for the civil rights movement. The court struck down an 1896 "separate but equal" decision, ruling that it violated students' 14th Amendment rights by denying black children equal access to education based on their skin color. Linda Brown was an elementary student in Topeka who attended a black school farther from her home than a nearby school for white children. Her parents sued to allow her to attend the closer school.

The Pulitzer Prize committee cited Wilkins (and Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and others) in 1972 for Watergate coverage. He served in the Justice Department during the Johnson Administration.

Wilkins currently is chairman of the NAACP Crisis magazine and contributes to Mother Jones. His opinion pieces frequently appear in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, The Village Voice and Sojourner. His books include A Man's Life (autobiography), and Jefferson's Pillow: The Founding Fathers and the Dilemma of Black Patriotism. His keynote address begins at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 17, in the Memorial Union Sun Room. Other university plans to commemorate Brown vs. Board of Education at Iowa State include:
  • Discussion topics during the "Conversations on Diversity" series, which resumes this fall.
  • Theme for the 2004 ISCORE (Iowa State Conference on Race and Ethnicity) conference this winter.
  • College initiatives that heighten awareness of the significance of the 1954 decision.
  • A photo chronology of the 1952-54 court proceedings, prepared by the Ames branch of the NAACP, during February, Black History Month.
The committee coordinating the observance is led by Tahira Hira, assistant to the president, and Pat Miller, Lectures program. Other events will be announced as details are confirmed.

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