Brown Conference an Interdisciplinary Look at Issues, Impacts & Challenges of Landmark Desegregation Case

Published: April 12th, 2004

Category: News

The lights dimmed in P.K. Yonge auditorium and the Center on Children and Families’ (CCF) third annual conference — co-hosted this year with the Center for the Study on Race and Race Relations (CSRRR), with support from UF’s Institute for Child and Adolescent Research and Evaluation (ICARE) and College of Education — kicked off at a youth summit March 25. The theme marked the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision of Brown v. Board of Education, which forever changed the face of education for children.

“Constitutional scholars think of Brown v. Board of Education as a landmark civil rights case on racial equality. But it is really the first major landmark decision on children’s rights,” said CCF Director/David H. Levin Chair in Family Law Barbara Bennett Woodhouse. “Our conference brought together advocates for children’s rights and advocates of civil rights to explore how the two issues are integrally connected. I was especially pleased to see participation by local figures such as Joseph Buchanan — one of the first children (now a mature man) to integrate Gainesville schools — who were child heroes here in the movement for equal rights for all children.”

It is because of the children that it is appropriate the conference began with them, for their story is one history has all too often reduced to a side note. Students at P.K. Yonge coordinated the youth summit with conference organizers to examine the Brown decision and its effects on today’s students.

Students at the summit saw the film, “Eyes on the Prize,” which chronicles the struggle of African- American students as they integrated the public school system. These students were ground-breakers and fighters in the civil rights movement, though for most it was not of their choosing. These were children who took on adult problems and responsibilities and carried them with courage and dignity many of the P.K. Yonge students found inspirational.

“We were interested in looking at children as civil rights heroes,” said CSRRR Director Professor Katheryn Russell-Brown. “The Brown conference was an opportunity for those at UF and in the community to discuss the legacy of that decision and how we continue to deal with the issues it raised.”

“It was listening to these students that taught many of us at the conference how important the role of children is in the struggle for equality, particularly in the area of education,” said participant Grace Casas (UF JD 03). “They live on a daily basis the legacy of Brown. Their young age does not insulate them from dealing with issues such as race and inequality in education.”

The conference also included a screening of the award-winning documentary film, “The Intolerable Burden,” about effects of the Brown decision on a Mississippi town. Professors Leland Ware of the University of Delaware and Edgar Epps of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee gave keynote addresses. In addition to Professors Russell-Brown and Bennett Woodhouse, UF law school faculty taking part included Professors Nancy Dowd, Joan Flocks, Berta Hernandez- Truyol, Kenneth B. Nunn, Juan F. Perea, Sharon E. Rush, Sherrie Russell-Brown, Michelle Jacobs, Christopher Slobogin, Michael Wolf and Monique Haughton Worrell, and UF faculty Mark Fondacaro, Department of Psychology; and Anane Olatunji and Sevan Terzian, College of Education.

Close to 100 UF students, faculty and community members attended the second day of the conference to further explore the ramifications of Brown and collaborate on solving issues the Brown decision did not address.

“One of the most fascinating things was hearing different perspectives people brought,” said Casas. “By the end of the conference, people from various professions, academic disciplines and walks of life had come to understand why Brown is such a landmark case for the rights of children. But there also was an understanding of how critical it is that all people, regardless of race, gender or other distinguishing characteristics, work together to solve problems such as inequality and racism that impact children.”

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