#OnThisDay: Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, 1954

The recent “leak” that the United States Supreme Court is on track to abolish the 1973 landmark decision Roe v Wade should stand as a wake-up call to all Americans.

Even a 49-year-old Supreme Court decision that has stood the test of time and numerous challenges, can be undone by five Supreme Court Associate Justices who claimed under oath before Congress that they had no intention of voting to undo that 1973 Court decision.

This begs the question, “What comes next? What other US Supreme Court decisions will be wiped away by this Court which was “stacked” by our former president and the radical “right” in Congress?

If I just “stepped on your toes,” so be it.

Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, 1954

This brings me to the topic of today’s blog post, which I chose months ago because it is the anniversary of another landmark US Supreme Court decision, Brown v Board of Education of Topeka. It was 68 years ago today that the Court published its unanimous decision on that case, which made it illegal to have separate public school systems based on race.

Photo credit: CDC on unspash.com

Until Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, it was legal for states to have “separate but equal” school systems for the different races. Everyone knew there was nothing equal about them, but they were legal in the eyes of the law.

The Brown v Board of Education of Topeka decision overturned the 1896 US Supreme Court case, Plessy v Ferguson. Plessy v Ferguson is proof that the US Supreme Court can make terrible mistakes. That decision ruled that having “separate but equal” school systems for each racial group was all right, and now it was deemed legal under the U.S. Constitution.

I grew up in the racially-segregated South. Before you get too puffed up about being from one of the other sections of the United States, though, take a moment to consider your childhood. Segregation might not have been mandated where you lived, but were your community and schools racially-integrated prior to the 1960s?

In a recent conversation with a friend from the Midwest, I said that our public schools here in Cabarrus County, NC were integrated when I was in the seventh grade. That was 1965. The person I was talking to made an interesting remark: “I lived in a non-segregated state, but I didn’t go to school with black students until high school. I lived in a farming community and there just weren’t any black people.”

Since I also grew up in a farming community, I found it strange that there weren’t a mix of white people and black people where she grew up. It was interesting to hear her perspective on the issue.

To our more-enlightened 21st century minds, it seems ridiculous that prior to Brown v Board of Education of Topeka it was legal to have racially-segregated public school systems. Since I was born in 1953, 1954 doesn’t seem very long ago. (Please stop rolling your eyes. If you don’t already understand, you will someday.)

The dual school systems didn’t disappear overnight – not by long shot. They continued here in Cabarrus County until the beginning of the 1966-67 school year. The previous school year, students had the option of attending the school not designated for their race. Few students chose to do that. For instance, in the previously all-white school of 1,000 students that I attended, only three black students chose to enroll in 1965. Looking back on it, I can’t imagine the courage it took for them to do so.

The following school year, the previously all-black schools in the county were closed. The buildings weren’t even used! I believe that’s proof in and of itself that the school board members knew that previously all-black schools weren’t on par with the previously all-white schools. Or, perhaps they knew that most white parents wouldn’t want their children assigned to those previously all-black schools. They carried a stigma which was based on racial bias and a deep-seated prejudice.

What a luxury the school board had then to let school buildings sit empty. It was just a couple of years before the county’s population started growing so fast that the school board was never again able to build schools fast enough to keep up.

The mid-1960s were volatile years as school desegregation took place. Southern states were held up by the national media as a backward place where white people resented black people and wanted their schools kept separate. That’s what we were told and we didn’t know any better until race riots broke out in Boston in September 1974 when the public schools there were ordered to desegregate.

In conclusion

In light of this history and what I read last week in Viola Davis’ memoir, Finding Me, I’m left to conclude that people everywhere are prejudiced against people who don’t look like they do.

We see racial profiling and discrimination all over the United States. Housing redlining takes place every day as mortgage lenders find ways to disguise such practices which limits where people of color can purchase homes. Every time I think this no longer takes place, investigative reporters uncover proof that I’m wrong.

I’ve come to realize that the desegregation of public schools didn’t always translate into equal opportunity. Students of all races and economic backgrounds experience different levels of support and nurture at home. Those of us who grew up in happy homes were blissfully unaware that some of our fellow students were subjected to abuse and neglect in their homes. Teachers — knowingly or unknowingly — bring their own prejudices into the classroom. So do students. It’s human nature, and it’s something we all need to be aware of as we interact with one another in our daily lives. You don’t know what the other person might be going through in his or her personal life.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have one or more good books to read this week.

Take time for a hobby, family, and friends.

Remember the people of Ukraine.

Janet

Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors

The 2017 Bookmarks Festival of Books and Authors in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on September 9, 2017 was fantastic! This free event included more than 45 authors. It was well-organized and supported by a large number of friendly and knowledgeable volunteers.

As is stated on the http://www.bookmarksnc.org website,

“Bookmarks is a literary arts organization that fosters a love of reading and writing in the community. Our programming connects readers and authors and includes:  an annual Festival of Books, an Authors in Schools program, and year-round events in our community gathering space and nonprofit independent bookstore.”

My sister and I have wanted to go to Bookmarks Festival of Books for years, but this was the first year it worked out for us to get there. The festival is held annually, usually on the second weekend in September. Make plans to attend Bookmarks next year!

We got to hear seven authors speak at Bookmarks! Seven authors in one day! Each one of them took questions from the audience after making their remarks.

Author events were going on throughout the day in six different venues within walking distance, so you could pick and choose which ones you wanted to attend.

Jamie Ford, author

Jamie Ford was the author we got to hear first. He was a very entertaining speaker. He regaled us with some of the comments teens have made on social media as they are required to read his novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet in the state of Washington.

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Author Jamie Ford @BookmarksNC. (Photo by Janet Morrison.)

Mr. Ford also talked about his new novel, Love and Other Consolation Prizes, and the true story that inspired it. He had arranged to autograph and have for sale copies of this new book even though the official release date wasn’t until September 12.

The book sales tent

After Jamie Ford’s presentation, we had time to visit the Bookmarks large book sales tent to purchase books by the authors participating in the festival.

Authors Kathleen Grissom, Lisa Wingate, & Patti Callahan Henry

I was especially excited about the opportunity to hear Kathleen Grissom speak. I wrote about her novels, The Kitchen House and Glory Over Everything in earlier blog posts –  What I read in October and What I read in January 2017.

Ms. Grissom, Lisa Wingate, and Patti Callahan Henry had a panel discussion about Southern Fiction. Although none of them were born in The South, that’s the genre they have written. When we arrived at their venue, it was almost standing room only.

We strained to hear the authors’ remarks and their answers to questions from the audience, but we enjoyed the bits and pieces of the panel discussion that we could hear. They each talked about some of their books and their works in progress. Be on the lookout for future novels by each of them!

Kathleen Grissom, Lisa Wingate, & Patti Callahan Henry – book signing

We split up to take advantage of the book signing by these three writers of Southern Fiction. Patti Callahan Henry was signing copies of her latest novel, The Bookshop at Water’s End. Marie was excited to meet Lisa Wingate and get her to autograph a copy of her new novel, Before We Were Yours, and I was thrilled to meet Kathleen Grissom and get her to autograph a copy of The Kitchen House.

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Janet getting Kathleen Grissom’s autograph @BookmarksNC. Author Patti Callahan Henry is seated to Ms. Grissom’s right, and author Lisa Wingate is seated to Ms. Henry’s right. (Photo by Marie Morrison.)

Lunch

A variety of food trucks were on hand to offer several options for lunch or snacks. My burger was delicious, but holding onto the Styrofoam tray it was served in was more than a challenge in the beautiful but blustery day.

Margaret Maron’s book signing

After lunch, we went to the Forsyth County Public Library booth for Margaret Maron’s book signing. She was very gracious. When she saw me taking a picture of Marie at her table, she asked if we were sisters and insisted that I come get in the picture, too. Marie is a big fan of Ms. Maron’s Deborah Knott series of mystery novels, so it was a thrill for her to get to meet the author.

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Author Margaret Maron @BookmarksNC. (Photo by Janet Morrison.)

It was a thrill for me, too! I’ve read Bootlegger’s Daughter, the first book in the Deborah Knott series, which means I have 19 more in the series to read.

Bookmarks – an independent bookstore

After getting Margaret Maron’s autograph, we visited the literary arts nonprofit and independent Bookmarks bookstore. It is located at 634 West Fourth Street #110 in Winston-Salem, so please make an effort to support it the next time you’re in that city.

Beverly Tatum and Marc Lamont Hill

Beverly Tatum and Marc Lamont Hill spoke about “The Race Divide: Then and Now” for an hour in the afternoon. This event was very well attended and enlightening. Those of us who are white have much to learn about “white privilege” and all it entails. The more I learn, the more I realize I have not really appreciated or understood in the past. I strive to be more cognizant of it and to do better.

Dr. Tatum and Dr. Hill’s remarks and discussion centered around race relations in the United States in the 1990s as compared to race relations in 2017. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Dr. Tatum’s nonfiction book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations About Race.

A new edition of this book has been published this year to include some updates and to cast more light on the fact that although Brown v Board of Education was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954, little real racial integration takes place today in the lives of most Americans. Schools are racially-integrated, but churches, neighborhoods, and friendships are still very much one race or the other.

Margaret Maron, author

Hearing Margaret Maron speak late in the afternoon was a highlight among many highlights of the day, especially after meeting her and seeing how gracious and friendly she was when Marie got her to autograph Long Upon the Land: A Deborah Knott Mystery. Those of you who are Margaret Maron fans will be sad to learn that she does not plan to write any more novels. She said she might write some short stories. Her new novel, Take Out, marks the end of her nine-book Sigrid series.

Ms. Maron was an entertaining speaker. She talked about living in Johnston County, North Carolina and enjoying how her Deborah Knott series allowed her to travel around the state as Judge Knott was assigned to court cases in various locations.

Diana Gabaldon, ending keynote speaker

Unfortunately, I was unable to return to Winston-Salem on September 10 for Diana Gabaldon’s keynote address. I’m a big fan of her Outlander book series, so it would have been a wonderful to have heard her speak. Perhaps she’ll participate in the Bookmarks Festival of Books again in the future.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman. Published in 2012, this was Ms. Stedman’s first novel. I’m also enjoying getting back into some quilting.

If you’re a writer, I hope you have quality writing time.

Janet