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Boro starts school contest to mark civil rights ruling

Now borough leaders and judges want to ensure that today’s students recognize the...

By Courtney Dentch

Fifty years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Brown vs. the Board of Education decision that having segregated public schools was unconstitutional.

Now borough leaders and judges want to ensure that today’s students recognize the importance of that court case, and they launched a Queenswide art, poetry and essay contest Tuesday.

“We want students in public schools to truly embrace the Brown decision,” State Supreme Court Justice Laura Blackburne said at a news conference at Borough Hall. “We want our students to understand the importance of this decision.”

The Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kan. decision was handed down May 17, 1954. Thurgood Marshall, the lead attorney on the case, argued that an earlier court decision that allowed separate but equal facilities violated the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment. Marshall said “separate but equal” was inherently unequal and caused psychological damage to black children.

The case grew out of a complaint by Oliver Brown, whose third-grade daughter had to walk through a railroad switch yard to get to her black school in Topeka rather than walking seven blocks to a white school, according to a news release.

The decision gave momentum to the budding civil rights movement across the country, Borough President Helen Marshall said.

“The long-overdue decision in the Brown vs. Board of Education case was a singular moment in our nation’s history and set our country’s feet on a path that led to the civil rights movement of the 1960s,” she said. “Today, 50 years after this landmark decision, a quality education — the birthright of every child — remains one of our highest priorities.”

The decision also paved the way for even more diverse schools, such as those in Queens filled with immigrant students, Marshall said.

“We have an international integration here in Queens,” she said. “Had the civil rights movement, had Brown vs. the Board of Education not happened, that would also not be existing.”

To encourage students to learn and think about the court ruling, Marshall announced a boroughwide contest for students in public, private and parochial schools.

Elementary school students can enter an art or poster contest, junior high school children may compose a poem, and high school students can submit a 500-word essay, Blackburne said. Each entry should focus on the theme of the Brown decision and its impact.

The deadline for submission is May 3, and winners will be announced and awarded their prizes at an anniversary celebration May 17 at York College.

The Queens Committee to Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Brown vs. the Board of Education will choose the winners. The committee is made up of York College, the Judicial Friends of Queens, the Macon B. Allen Black Bar Association, the Queens branches of the NAACP and other church and civic groups.

For more information, call 718-426-8847.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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