Sixty years have passed since the Supreme Court ruled that segregation of black and white children in public schools violated the constitution in Brown v. Board of Education. Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, reflected on the decision’s achievements, while also remarking on the structural challenges to equalize the educational playing field in the United States that lie ahead: Sixty years after ‘Brown v. Board of Education,’ the fight goes on.
Ifill took your questions and here are her responses.
Transdivision: You mentioned that we are still in the fight … What do you consider the most pressing problem in current day America? … And how would you attack that particular problem?
Sherrilyn Ifill: All of the major civil rights issues facing America today are interconnected, so I don’t see a hierarchy.
Perhaps voting rights is the most salient civil rights issue of today. The extent to which we fail to guard the franchise for all of our citizens threatens the health and vitality of our democracy.
Economic access remains a very pressing issue. The Great Recession has revealed the financially fragile position of many middle class black families and produced the largest wealth loss in the African American community ever. And there has not yet been a concerted and effective civil rights response to that.
The criminal justice system and the system of mass incarceration that are destroying and hollowing out so many black families and communities is a moral catastrophe. We will look back on this 50 years from now and we will be astonished that we allowed this system to exist.
NAACP LDF is deeply engaged in these problems. Recently, we hosted a convening at UNC’s Center for Civil Rights where we discussed problems and explored solutions on racial inequality and unfair practices in auto lending, student lending, and mortgage lending.
NAACP LDF also recognizes the devastating and durable impact that criminal background checks have on Americans in general, and in particular communities of color. Through litigation, legislative reform, and public education, we are committed to reforming the manner in which criminal history is used to ensure that no one is unfairly denied opportunity because of a past mistake.
BillJ318: Aside from the obvious and great strides made in education following Brown vs. Board of Education, there seems to be a disconnect when considering that in the near future there will a “minority-majority” in public education. How can we honestly celebrate the promise of equality and opportunity for all its citizens when it seems “white flight” continues to dominant the bipartisan educational terrain?
Sherrilyn Ifill: While we celebrate Brown’s promise of equal opportunity, we also recognize the urgent need to continue working to ensure its ideal – that all students, regardless of race, have access to equal educational opportunities. America’s changing demographic landscape provides further urgency to the need to eliminate inequality and to ensure access to high quality education is a reality for all students. Fortunately, we work in coalition with organizations representing Latino and Asian American school children. We all share the same goal of providing access to quality public education in diverse environment.
Furthermore, we are all united in our commitment to examining not only our education policies but our housing policies so that both are aligned to further the promise of Brown. Housing segregation – both economic and racial – continues to pervade our society. Housing segregation leads to school segregation. So we have to go to the root of the housing issue in tandem with our interventions in the education space. This is tough, complex work, but Brown challenges us to continue in the fight.