Segregation in education was common through the first half of the 1900s. It would take a series of class action lawsuits and a United States Supreme Court decision to end the practice of separating children for school based on ethnic background.
Topeka, Kansas, is the site of the Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site. The site is located at Monroe Elementary School. The school was built in the late 1800s specifically to educate African American children.
The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987. In 1992, President George HW Bush signed a Congressional act to create the National Historic Site. It’s part of the National Park Service.
In 1950, the Topeka NAACP set out to challenge an 1879 Kansas law that allowed separating children by race for education. Oliver Brown, a parent, eventually was selected to have his name attached as the lead plaintiff.
Four other states had cases that were being considered by the federal courts challenging the constitutionality of racial segregation in public schools. In 1952, the Supreme Court combined the cases into one major challenge to be heard. The all-white, all-male justices chose the Kansas challenge as the lead case, because it didn’t have any southern influence. The challenge was led by Thurgood Marshall, a lawyer who would later become the first African American Supreme Court justice.
In 1954, the Court ruled unanimously (9-0) that segregation violated the 14th Amendment. The ruling forced public school integration.
The historic site offers visitors a look into what life was like during segregation. As you walk into the building, you see a reminder right away, directing people to go specific ways based on the color of their skin.
Water fountains and rest rooms were assigned based on a person’s skin tone.
An exhibit had people yelling and calling names as you walked down a small hall, giving visitors an idea of what African American kids went through after segregation was banned.
A map of the United States reflects where segregation was banned, as well as permitted and allowed. Most Midwestern states banned segregation or had no specific laws on the issue. Kansas was the lone state in the region permitting it.
Exhibits supporting equal rights were on display during our visit. It’s amazing that in the 21st century we are still fighting the battle for equal and fair treatment in this country. Historical attractions, such as the Brown vs. Board site and others around the country, help educate people on chapters of our national history, as well as allowing us to focus on the future of our people.
The Brown vs. Board of Education National Historic Site is an attraction we highly recommend when in Kansas. Its story stands tall in our nation’s history.
For more information on the historic site, please visit www.nps.gov/brvb/index.htm.