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Updated 4:00 PM May 18, 2004



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  Life after Brown v. Board of Education
Shaw: 'If you think the struggle is over, think again'

Brown v. Board of Education was a turning point that "broke the back of American apartheid," splitting U.S. history into "before and after'' eras, a former U-M law professor who now is president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said May 7.

"Brown split American history into a kind of B.C. and A.D.," said Ted Shaw, also the director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Shaw represented the Intervenors in Gratz v. Bollinger, the case challenging LSA's admissions processes, which went before the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

Brown inspired a series of education-related rulings, including a 1974 high court decision on busing in Detroit and the 2003 case on U-M's admissions policies that declared the University could use race as a factor in selecting students, Shaw said. He said the rulings in the U-M cases were part of Brown's legacy. Noting how much the world has changed since Brown, Shaw said President Bush rightly said every day America lived under segregation was a day "America was untrue to its ideals."
"Michigan was a very important victory, but it's not enough."
—Ted Shaw

Despite the progress since Brown, Shaw said inequity remains and that many African Americans are more interested in getting the financial support to raise the quality of their schools than anything else. Despite gains, minority schools continue to lack resources, he said.

"Michigan was a very important victory, but it's not enough," Shaw said. "If you think the struggle is over, think again."

Opponents of affirmative action continue to put every program set up to benefit African Americans "in the crosshairs," arguing that any program set up to achieve racial equality is illegal, Shaw said. He lamented that the U-M case affirmed the 1979 Bakke ruling, because Bakke allowed affirmative action as a goal but also began limiting its use.

"Michigan was one of the most important cases since Brown, and I was deeply grateful the court went the way it did. But what we won was a reaffirmation of Bakke, and Bakke was a profound loss," Shaw said. "The 14th Amendment was part of a whole series of race-conscious initiatives to help previously enslaved African Americans, but it's now used to argue against race-conscious initiatives."

Shaw argued that it has been 385 years since the first African American slaves were brought to Jamestown, Va., and he noted that it took decades for the nation to pass laws legally outlawing the segregation the court demanded a halt to in Brown. He argued that 90 percent of American history going back to Jamestown was a time when African Americans either were slaves subjected to segregation.

The School of Education and Programs for Educational Opportunity (PEO) brought in a host of experts to debate the topic May 7 and 8 as part of the Brown v. Board of Education theme semester.

The semester of events has honored the 50th anniversary of the landmark case, which unanimously called for the desegregation of public schools and triggered a series of subsequent rulings making education accessible.

"People who are the beneficiaries of racism cannot see racism," said Charles Moody, professor emeritus who started PEO when he was at the University and was vice provost for minority affairs from 1987-96. "American education for whites and Blacks was separate but was never equal."

Moody said Americans today debate diversity but not desegregation and inequity. "I wonder sometimes if we learned anything. Diversity is a neutral word. You don't have to deal with discrimination and past discrimination when you talk about diversity."

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