What a difference a few sentences can make. I just finished listening to one of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcasts for his series “Revisionist History.” In this episode, “Miss Buchanan’s Period of Adjustment,” Gladwell explores the fallout from the 1954 Supreme Court Case Brown v. Board of Education.
The Supreme Court found that “separate but equal” was unhealthy for Black children, that being segregated was fundamentally “bad” for their psyche and self-esteem. But that was not what the NAACP had been fighting for.
From the mouths of two Black parents who took part in the court case, Leola and Oliver Brown, they had no complaints with their daughter’s school (Monroe School, shown below). They loved the teachers, thought the education was “fantastic.” They just wanted all Black parents to have a choice of where to send their children to school.
From Gladwell’s podcast:
So what does the US Supreme Court do in 1954 in the Brown decision? It buys into the southern way of thinking about race. Leola Brown and the other plaintiffs say, “We have a structural problem. We don’t have the power to send Linda to the school down the street.” The court says, “No, no, no, it’s a psychological problem. Little Linda has been damaged in her heart.” That may seem like a small distinction, believe me it’s not. We’re still dealing with the consequences.
Those few sentences by the Supreme Court made a huge difference to children across the segregated South. What do you think happens when Black schools and Black teachers are ruled to be inferior? What happens to teachers and students deemed “deficient”? The fallout is huge. Listen to Gladwell’s podcast, or you can find a transcript of it here.
The New York Times published an excellent, related article earlier this year: “Where Did All the Black Teachers Go?”