Fifty Years after Brown, the Civil Rights Ideology and Today’s Movement


In April of 2003, nearly fifty years after the Supreme Court declared “[s]eparate educational facilities are inherently unequal” in Brown v. Board of Education, we found ourselves back before the Court, once again fighting for genuine access to education. African Americans and hundreds of other people from diverse backgrounds and regions of the country gathered on the steps of the Court while our cause was argued inside. We chanted fervently, waived signs declaring “diversity is a compelling state interest,” and cheered enthusiastically as numerous speakers repeatedly proclaimed that day to be the start of the “New Civil Rights Movement.” However, persistent societal inequities and the Supreme Court’s subsequent decisions in the Michigan cases call into question the appropriate strategies and philosophy of this new movement. As we celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Brown and the victories it helped usher in, we must also study the limitations of these victories and how the lessons of the past should shape our continued advocacy. This article examines the ideological underpinnings of the Civil Rights Movement and questions whether these principles form a viable framework for shaping today’s advocacy. African Americans, having obtained the hard fought victories of the Civil Rights Movement, continue to face obstacles that require strategies rooted in more comprehensive ideological beliefs. These beliefs include conceptions of Black identity, freedom, and the sufficiency of American promises. The practical implication of adopting more comprehensive ideological beliefs is an acknowledgment of the inherent limitations of “traditional civil rights” advocacy and the development of strategies that compensate for these limitations

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