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Five Movements that We Wouldn’t Have without Brown

Ten years ago, I was lucky enough to hear the Honorable Constance Baker-Motley talk about her role in the Supreme Court decision Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka. While the mood was festive for the 50th anniversary—which Yale Law School celebrated in style—Judge Baker Motley was a bit solemn when presaged that in a few years we will no longer be on a first name basis with Brown and many will ask, “What is Brown?” As Brown turns 60 years old this year, I am on a mission to prove your honor wrong. The landmark decision, which ended racial segregation in public schools and rebuked the fallacy of separate but equal, is still breathing through many of today's few social movements that would not have been possible without Brown.

Interracial marriages

Today, we do not think much of it when we see beautiful multiracial families. However, there was a time in this country that they were outlawed. Until the 1960’s many states, like Virginia, actively enforced laws which prohibited interracial marriages. The Brown decision paved the way for the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision, which struck down miscegenation laws.

The women’s pay equity battle

Many of the gains in the women’s rights movement worked in tandem with the civil rights movement. The premise of the pay equity argument is based on fairness and equality. It is impossible to treat men and women fairly if one gender is paid more than the other. The economic divide between working men and women is reminiscent of school boards providing separate educational tracks for Black and White children. It is impossible to separate anything, even pay, and call it equal.

Gay marriage

Many of the arguments in support of gay marriage are built on the Loving v. Virginia case, which as stated above, has Brown as its foundation.

Scandal

Long before she was Olivia Pope, Kerry Washington was a student at the prestigious Spence School in New York. If segregation kept Ms. Washington away from academic opportunities, it’s possible that she would have never developed a love for acting and the theater. We would never have had Scandal. (And, for anyone who does not think that Scandal is a movement, check out the explosion on Twitter that occurs every Thursday night at 10pm.)

Barack and Michelle

This double Ivy League educated couple openly admit that they would never be in the White House today if they didn’t have the privilege of a good education in integrated schools. Their public testimonies about the power of Brown will hopefully equip their daughters with an answer if someone asks 20 years from now, “What is Brown?”

Natalie Holder-Winfield conducts diversity and compliance trainings from New Haven to New Zealand. She is also the author of Exclusion: Strategies for Increasing Diversity in Recruitment, Retention, and Promotions (ABA Publishing).

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