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Marking 50 years of desegregation

By Greg Gelpi

Almost 50 years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that separate is not equal when it comes to schools.

As the nation remembers the end of segregation and the ruling of Brown v. the Board of Education, the NAACP is looking at tearing down other separations between races that still exist.

The Clayton County chapter of the NAACP recognizes that change has been made, but also understands that more changes must come to truly provide equal education.

"In 1954 the issue of resource allocation was addressed in terms of the physical facility," said Artansa Snell, the chairwoman of the Clayton County chapter of the NAACP. "Today, the issue is not whether black children can attend the same schools as white children, but clearly the issue is whether all groups receive resource equity. Clearly, the challenges our community face today involve clear and consistent racial and socioeconomic disparities in critical areas of the education process: teacher quality, resource equity, access to advance level courses, parental involvement, drop out or push out rates and graduation rates."

Among the areas of disparity, she also said that the community and school system must consolidate efforts to formulate an offensive for test scores, not simply identifying poor test scores.

"Our goals must be oriented to provide the necessary resources to ensure that all children will receive the skills and abilities to compete in a global economy," Snell said. "In order to accomplish this task it will require a consistent collaboration among teachers, parents, elected officials, community advocates and faith-based community leaders."

Brown v. Board of Education ruled that separate schooling for black children and white children didn't provide equal schooling.

The ruling made it illegal for schools to be segregated, although many school systems, including those in Henry and Clayton counties, didn't integrate their schools until the mid and late 1960s.

Marinelle Simpson, who taught biology at Henry County High School during its desegregation, said misunderstandings created anxiety, but generally the time was calm.

"It put a tremendous number of children together without a lot of understanding," she said. "There were no major problems. I said back then that if it could work anywhere if could work in Georgia because we accept people."

Simpson recalled black kindergarten children and white kindergarten children touching each other's hair, an attempt to cross physical and cultural differences.

"There were physical differences, but these differences didn't make them different people," Simpson said.

Any problems that did arise came from a lack of preparation to deal with cultural differences, she said. Students clumped together along racial and gender lines, retreating within their comfort zones.

"I wanted to bring out the best in all of them," Simpson said.

The NAACP, Howard University and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund spearheaded the movement that brought about the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

"While we pause to celebrate or commemorate this historic decision, we are more challenged than ever to serve notice that the unmet promises of the Brown decision must become a national imperative," NAACP President and CEO Kweisi Mfume said in a press release. "The gradual resegregation of our public school system and the unequal nature of public funding requires that we still do more."

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is also pushing the country to continue the movement of the decision.

"Brown was one of the most important judicial decisions of the 20th century," said the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund's President and Director-Counsel Theodore M. Shaw in a statement. "It showed the power of using the courts to push America to live up to its democratic ideals. It improved the lives of people of color, and it improved the country. Still, at the same time that we commemorate Brown, we acknowledge that there is much work to be done."

To commemorate the Supreme Court decision and honor those who fought for civil rights, the Clayton County chapter of the NAACP nominated Thurgood Marshall as the name of one of Clayton County's new schools.

Marshall was the lead attorney representing Linda Brown in the Supreme Court case and became the first black Supreme Court justice.

The chapter is also sponsoring an essay scholarship contest on the topic "Brown 50 years later: Looking back and moving forward." The 500-word submissions should be sent to P.O. Box 1949, Jonesboro, GA, 30237. For more information on the contest, call (404) 361-3235.