It’s hard to overstate the importance of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, which may be the most consequential U.S. Supreme Court action in history.
The unanimous ruling ended legal segregation in public schools, declaring that the “separate but equal” schools were inherently unequal. Evidence included segregated schools located in tarpaper shacks, without running water or heat. Textbooks and facilities were outdated and substandard, if they existed at all.
The decision altered communities, large and small, and led to changes still felt today.
The story’s told with sensitivity and nuance at the federal Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas.
As visitors learn, the lawsuit, brought by the NAACP and officially titled Oliver Brown, et al. v. Board of Education of Topeka, et al. was based on combined several suits brought against school desegregation. The case had 33 plaintiffs, including Barbara Johns, whose moving story is told in Farmville, Virginia.
Oliver Brown, a welder and assistant pastor, filed the suit because his daughter Linda had to travel 21 blocks to her elementary school, although the family lived only seven blocks from a white school.
The park site does an admirable job breaking down the history, starting with a 30-minute film, Race and the American Creed, exploring the history of racism and segregation. The Education and Justice hall introduces the black community leaders who fought for integration through several films and displays. Some of the historic film footage is not suitable for visitors under 12.
But young visitors aren’t overlooked. The restored kindergarten classroom shows what it was like for students to attend the segregated school.
Don’t forget to talk to the park rangers, who many visitors say are the highlight of the park. They know the history, and know how to make it relatable.
Here’s a video laying out the story:
The Senate Luxury Suites, a historic boutique hotel, offers fun, stylish lodging not far from the Brown site. It offers a breakfast buffet, free Internet and two-bedroom suites.
Kansas is known for its barbecue, and you can get a flavorful introduction at Lonnie Q’s BBQ. Open Monday-Friday for lunch only, and Friday for dinner. 3150 SE 21st St, Topeka, KS 66607, 785-233-4227
And here’s a fun local dining guide from the Food Network.