National Trust Applauds Senate Passage of Brown v. Board National Historic Site Expansion Act
Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed innovative legislation that creates multiple National Park Service (NPS) 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 Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site Expansion Act (S. 270, H.R. 920) featured in a multi-year National Trust campaign, has been led by House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) in the House and Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) in the Senate.
The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision has been described by constitutional scholar Louis H. Pollak as " the most important American government act of any kind since the Emancipation Proclamation.” Brown v. Board overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 ruling that established segregation through the doctrine of “separate but equal.”
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, four other communities—Wilmington, Delaware; Summerton, South Carolina; Farmville, Virginia; and the District of Columbia—also included plaintiffs in the case. When enacted, this legislation will appropriately recognize the contributions of all the communities involved in the case, conveying a more complete history of this pivotal moment in American history.
Working through its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, the National Trust helped craft a policy proposal, which culminated in the introduction of legislation in September 2020 and reintroduction in February 2021. Passage in the Senate portends likely passage by the House, after which the bill would be sent to the President to sign into law. The legislative proposal connects communities representing plaintiffs in the landmark court case within the National Park System through the creation of NPS Affiliated Areas in Delaware, Virginia, and the District of Columbia and expansion of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas to include related sites in South Carolina.
The National Trust’s President and CEO Paul Edmondson said:
“With the passage of the Brown v. Board National Historic Site Expansion 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.”
Senator Christopher Coons said: “The painful but significant impact the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine had on our nation must never be forgotten. With new National Park Service designations, we will better honor and remember those who worked to correct the injustice of school segregation in Delaware and states across the country,” said Senator Coons. “I was raised just a few hundred yards away from the so-called Hockessin Colored School – one of the segregated schools that played a role in the Brown v. Board of Education case, but I did not learn until law school that two cases successfully challenging Delaware’s segregated school system eventually made their way to the Supreme Court and became part of the Brown decision. We must ensure that future generations learn this history, and the best way to do that is by improving and expanding the community spaces that document and share these stories.”
House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn said: “The integration of our nation’s public school system was a critical step toward making America’s greatness accessible to all of her citizens,” said Whip Clyburn in a statement. “Brown v. Board of Education and its companion cases undeniably chartered a course forward, creating educational equity in communities across the country. I am proud to join Senator Coons in leading this legislation to expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Kansas, to include other historic sites that played a critical role in catalyzing the 1954 landmark Supreme Court decision. Summerton High School and former Scott’s Branch High School in my home state, are historic sites connected to the Briggs v. Elliott case that will continue to tell the story of struggle and perseverance for years to come. I commend the Senate for taking action on this bill and look forward to swift passage of similar legislation in the House.”
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.”
For more information on the campaign to preserve Brown v. Board historical sites, please visit https://savingplaces.org/brown-v-boe.
African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund
The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund is a multi-year initiative led by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in partnership with the Ford Foundation, the JPB Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and other partners, working to make an important and lasting contribution to our cultural landscape by elevating the stories and places of African American resilience, achievement, and activism. Visit https://www.savingplaces.org/actionfund