Yesterday, President Biden signed into law the Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Park Expansion and Redesignation Act, creating multiple National Park Service designations that help share the full history of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, which led to the end of the separate but equal doctrine in public education and mandated the desegregation of public schools. The enactment of the legislation is a key milestone of a multi-year campaign executed by The National Trust for Historic Preservation and its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund to appropriately recognize the contributions of all the communities involved in the case, conveying a more complete history of this pivotal moment in American history. In April, the Senate and House unanimously passed the legislation (S. 270), led by Senator Christopher Coons (D-DE) in the Senate and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC) in the House (H.R. 920). A signing ceremony took place at the White House yesterday.
The National Trust’s President and CEO Paul Edmondson said: “With the enactment of the Brown v. Board National Historical Park Expansion and Redesignation Act to designate all of the sites associated with this monumental Supreme Court case, history is not just memorialized but also made whole. At the National Trust, we have been diligently working to reveal and amplify a more complete view of our national history and we’re pleased to have partnered with Senator Coons and Congressman Clyburn in this important work. The heroism of the communities, parents and schoolchildren who dared to demand equal access to education can now be properly celebrated through these historic places.”
The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund’s Executive Director Brent Leggs said: “This preservation process reveals how all history is truly made. So often it takes more than one great man, woman or even a single community to create change, despite the way the stories of history are often recounted. Actually, it requires many ‘ordinary people with extraordinary vision’ to move a society forward. We applaud those courageous attorneys, families, and activists, some known and others unknown, who put so much at risk to secure educational equality for all Americans. Thanks to our preservation partners, the full history of this landmark case will forever be memorialized and interpreted to inspire the next generation of social justice leaders.”
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s President and Director-Counsel Emeritus Sherrilyn Ifill said: “The Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education changed the course of American democracy in the 20th century. But Brown was more than just a legal case. It is a testament to the courage, sacrifice and resilience of Black families and communities and the attorneys who represented them, who never stopped demanding that this country live up to the promises of equality and justice in our Constitution. It is only right for our government to recognize its full dimensions by honoring all those who helped make the case a reality and expanding the number of historic sites designated for that purpose,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel Emeritus of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF). “I commend the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, and all those inside and outside of Congress who have done so much to support and champion this necessary and important bill.”
Senator Christopher Coons said: “By signing this bill, President Biden is ensuring that we will honor and remember those who worked to correct the injustice of school segregation in Delaware and states across the country,” said Senator Coons. “The Hockessin Colored School in Delaware was one of the first major urban school desegregation plans had been ordered by a court, and having former students join us as President Biden signed this bill into law is an example of what our nation can accomplish when we face the future by confronting the impact of our past. When we remember our nation’s long fight for equality, we can understand just how far we have come and why it is ever more important to continue to keep pushing to build a ‘more perfect Union’ for all Americans.”
House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn said: “I applaud President Biden for signing the Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Park Expansion and Redesignation Act into law yesterday. I want to also thank Senator Coons, his colleagues in the Senate, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation for their help in making this historic legislation a reality,” said House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn. “The integration of our nation’s public school system was a critical step toward making America’s greatness accessible to all of her citizens and we must ensure that the full story is told for generations to come.”
The history of Brown v. Board is currently represented in our national consciousness by a single building, Monroe School, which constitutes the National Park Service’s Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site located in Topeka, Kansas. However, six other communities—Claymont, Delaware; Hockessin, Delaware; Wilmington, Delaware; Summerton, South Carolina; Farmville, Virginia; and the District of Columbia—also included plaintiffs in the case.
Working through its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund (AACHAF), the National Trust helped craft a policy proposal, which culminated in the introduction of legislation in September 2020 and reintroduction in February 2021. The AACHAF has worked tirelessly for the past four years to ensure that the full story of the Brown v. Board of Education case is told, which included extensive community outreach, a multi-state advocacy campaign, and the creation of the Brown v. Board of Education webinar series to elevate the stories of the sites associated with the legislation and broaden the public’s understanding of this diverse history.
For more information on the campaign to preserve Brown v. Board historical sites, please visit https://savingplaces.org/brown-v-boe#.YgZzRf7MJRY