BY CLINTON DICK
The American Bar Association has named Harvard Law School Professor Charles Ogletree to head its Brown v. Board of Education Commission. With the 50-year anniversary of the public school desegregation case approaching next year, the ABA hopes to inform young people about Brown‘s importance in law and society through speaking tours and an informative website that links students to much of the research that has been conducted on the 1954 Supreme Court decision.Prof. Ogletree, who is the director of the Saturday School program and vice dean of the Law School’s clinical programs, said the commission “will prepare a new curriculum of slavery, Jim Crow, and Brown, to be available to school age children.”
The commission has already held its first forum at the American Bar Association annual meeting in San Francisco on August 10. About eighty students from high schools around the country participated in the forum, where they were asked to imagine attending a high school like Linda Brown where other students despised you based on the color of your skin.
Prof. Ogletree, who was one of the moderators at the event, said the students “were terrific and very candid, and they were diverse as were their views.” Stanford Prof. Deborah Rhode, another member of the Commission, and ABA President Dennis Archer were also moderators. “I do not blame young people for being unable to grasp the significance of Brown,” Ogletree told The Record. “We have done a poor job as educators, and the press has understated the case’s significance in shepherding a new day in race relations.” Recent research suggests that the need for a Brown Commission may be greater now than in recent years. The HLS website reported that while the vast majority of the American public believes that discrimination in public education has greatly decreased in the past fifty years, “recent studies have indicated that segregation may actually be increasing in schools, as a growing number of students are learning in an environment that is predominately single race.”
Asked to comment on those recent studies, Ogletree said, “One of the painful lessons of Brown, and one I discuss in my book, is that America’s schools are resegregating, with some experiencing segregation as bad, if not worse, than what we experienced 50 years ago. The resistance to integration came from the government, and private parties, and prevented the real goal of Brown from ever being fully achieved.”
Ogletree’s book, “All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half-Century of Brown v. Board of Education,” will be published in May 2004. Dean Elena Kagan has asked Ogletree to do a reading during the week of April 12-17 when the Law School celebrates the Brown decision.
Other members of the Commission include Oliver Hill, one of the lawyers who worked on the Brown case; Julius Chambers, former director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; Martha Bennett, the ABA’s first woman elected president; and Judge Damon Keith, a protégé of Justice Thurgood Marshall.