Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin

June, 2004

LAWYERS, TEACHERS AND STUDENTS EMBARK ON ROAD TO BROWN VS. BOARD OF EDUCATION
~MSBA's 2004 Law Day Celebration Revisits the Past, Contemplates the Future~

By Janet Stidman Eveleth

Over 190 high school students, teachers and lawyers from all parts of Maryland embarked on the road to Brown vs. Board of Education on May 18, revisiting the past and contemplating the future during MSBA’s Law Day Celebration. MSBA’s Public Awareness Committee, in conjunction with the Association’s Citizenship Law-Related Education Program, sponsored the Law Day lawyer/student/teacher conference at the Sheppard Pratt Conference Center to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education.

Highlights of the conference included an insightful keynote address by the Honorable Robert M. Bell, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, an effective historical video on the events leading up to Brown vs. Board of Education, a special focus on the efforts of attorney Charles Hamilton Houston and a guest appearance by his son, Charles Houston, Jr. In addition, the Brown vs. Board of Education script from Center Stage’s May 3 commemorative event was presented, with Judge Bell, lawyers and students offering the readings, followed by an engaging and interactive dialogue.

MSBA President Harry S. Johnson opened the conference, announcing that he was the 110th President of the organization and its first African-American President. “This shows how far we have come,” he declared. Johnson offered a brief history of Brown and praised the progress that has been made across 50 years.” He emphasized “we still have farther to go.”

“Lawyers make a big difference in our country,” continued Johnson, as he traced their role in fighting segregation, leading up to and including the Brown decision. As Johnson introduced keynote speaker Chief Judge Bell, he outlined Bell’s involvement in a sit-in in the 1960s and Thurgood Marshall’s role in what became a Supreme Court case. MSBA’s President told the students “Maryland’s Chief Judge is a living role model; this is living history.”

Bell spoke of the events leading up to Brown centering on the efforts of Charles Hamilton Houston who initiated the legal strategy that eventually led to the downfall of the separate but equal doctrine. Students and teachers listened as the Chief Judge recounted the history of segregation and “Jim Crow” in this country, sharing personal memories of the discrimination he experienced as well as his involvement in the civil rights movement.

Brown pointed the way to a desegregated society,” stated Bell, “but the game is not yet up. There are still battles to be fought. Law Day celebrates our rule of law; this separates us from other countries. The rule of law is our country’s foundation; people respect the law. We must always remain focused on this and move ahead to achieve our goals.”

The audience then saw segregation firsthand through the Road to Brown video, which told the story of “Jim Crow” and the brilliant legal strategy that launched the civil rights movement, largely captured through the pictures and words of Charles Hamilton Houston. At the conclusion of this moving video, Charles Houston, Jr., a professor at Morgan State University, offered reflections on his memories of that time.

“Laws needed to change and social attitudes needed to change,” asserted Houston. “Dad used cases to expose injustices perpetrated by the law. He used cases to mobilize African-Americans and educate white Americans, many of whom were not aware of the extent of blatant segregation in this country. Eventually, social attitudes did begin to change.” The conference concluded with an insightful dialogue of Brown’s impact on our contemporary times.

This MSBA event was most successful and proved to be a learning experience for all who attended. “The students, teachers and lawyers paid rapt attention to our speakers like Judge Bell, who was very much a part of the development of our civil rights law,” states Public Awareness Committee Co-Chair Robert Anbinder. “When someone who has been part of the battle speaks, there is not only a greater tendency to listen, but it makes history seems much less distant and much more important.”

“The program was a profound learning experience for everyone, putting the historical significance of Brown back on everyone’s radar screen,” states Public Awareness Committee Co-Chair Adam Sean Cohen. “The most rewarding aspect was when the students spoke candidly to one another about their personal experiences and observations of ‘equality’ in their respective schools. By the end of the day, despite the gender, age, and racial diversity of the audience, we reached common ground: how very far we have come, and how much further we need to go.”

“One could not help but be moved by the passion with which the students expressed their views on how far - and how little - we have traveled since 1954 in the area of race relations,” adds Anbinder. “If our Law Day program left the students with anything, I hope it was the feeling that they can make a difference by working to attain change. This is particularly important since some black students, especially those from the Eastern Shore, came to the brink of tears when explaining just how many obstacles there are yet to overcome.”

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: June, 2004

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