Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin

Editor: W. Patrick Tandy

January, 2004


MSBA Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education
~Commemorates Landmark Supreme Court Decision~
By Janet Stidman Eveleth

On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court began the process of dismantling segregation in this country’s public schools when it struck down the legal doctrine of “separate but equal” in the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision. This monumental high court ruling paved the way for desegregation in this nation’s schools and the pursuit of equal rights for all citizens. Now, 50 years later, Maryland’s legal community is coming together to commemorate this milestone with a host of celebratory events, unique exhibits, school activities, educational programs and special forums.

Five decades ago, this hallmark ruling ended legalized segregation in American schools, underscoring the true meaning of equality. Brown vs. Board of Education was the driving force behind the civil rights movement in our country. It also generated a greater awareness of equal protection for all American citizens under our democracy and rule of law.

“The Brown case changed the way that we in this country looked at our fellow citizens,” declares Harry S. Johnson, President of the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA). “It is significant that lawyers of color, like Thurgood Marshall and Robert Carter, argued the five school cases before the Supreme Court.  Their valiant efforts improved the lives of all Americans.”

“It is important that MSBA take the lead in the legal community in coordinating programs commemorating Brown,” stresses Johnson, who was installed as the Association’s first African-American President last June. MSBA is planning a number of activities in 2004 as a tribute to the Brown vs. Board of Education 50th anniversary, and it is working with the broader community to develop and co-sponsor programs that recognize this momentous occasion.

“Our association has changed significantly since the 1950s,” MSBA’s President continues. “Thurgood Marshall could not join the MSBA in 1954, but today I am honored to be its President. We need to assure that the entire community understands and celebrates the importance of this decision.”

Education is the thrust of MSBA’s Brown celebration. The Association will offer an array of programs and activities to promote the public’s understanding of this significant landmark decision. Highlights of MSBA’s tribute to Brown will include two special Law Day major events, both scheduled in May 2004.

First, MSBA and Center Stage will jointly offer a free Community Forum the evening of May 3, 2004, at 8:00 p.m. at Baltimore’s Center Stage as a public service. Although still in the planning stage, this forum will feature volunteer MSBA attorneys, judges and law students who, along with other community professionals, will tell the story of the Brown case. These “actors” will read and interpret excerpts from Brown and engage the audience in a discussion of the issues in a contemporary context.

Then on May 18th, a student-teacher-lawyer Brown vs. Board of Education statewide conference will be presented by MSBA’s Public Awareness Committee and the Association’s Citizenship Law-Related Education Committee. This day-long educational session, to be held at the Sheppard Pratt Conference Center in Towson, Maryland, will focus on everything from the highlights of the Brown case to equality and racial diversity across the U.S. today. Students and teachers from high schools across the state will be invited to participate in this educational program.

Additionally, MSBA’s community Speakers’ Bureau is offering volunteer attorney speakers on the Brown vs. Board of Education case as another component of MSBA’s celebration. Throughout 2004, MSBA volunteers will be available to visit schools and community groups and discuss this landmark decision, along with its contemporary ramifications. MSBA is working with Maryland’s media to promote this volunteer service. The Association will furnish expert attorney speakers for media appearances, too.

Throughout the year, members will be able to glance at MSBA’s website (www.msba.org) and the Bar Bulletin for a comprehensive Brown vs. Board of Education calendar of events of interest to Maryland’s legal community. In May, the Bar Bulletin will offer a special feature on Brown. MSBA is also working with the University of Maryland and the University of Baltimore Schools of Law and a special Maryland Humanities Council Planning Coalition to coordinate and sponsor Brown activities. The Council offers a master calendar of Brown events in Maryland and a wealth of resources on its website (www.mdhc.org).

Brown is not just part of our history but part of our present,” asserts Johnson. “Just this summer, the United States Supreme Court again addressed the issue of race and education in the Grutter case.”

“Even 50 years after Brown, we as a country are still struggling over the notions of equality and fairness for all citizens,” concludes Johnson. “As lawyers, we have the ultimate responsibility of making sure that every citizen has his or her rights protected and preserved. By focusing on Brown in this anniversary year, we can remind all of us of our continuing duty to fight for justice.”

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: January, 2004

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