From the Office of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi

Pelosi Statement on 50th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education Decision

May 13, 2004

Washington, D.C. -- House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and other Members of Congress joined special guests at an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education today. Below are Pelosi’s remarks:

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"As House Democratic Leader, I have the privilege of leading some of the finest public servants our country has ever seen. I proudly lead a very diverse Democratic Caucus in the Congress of the United States, and it reflects the beauty of America’s diversity and thus, the hope of the Brown decision: 39 African Americans, of which Mr. Cummings is the distinguished Chair; 20 Hispanics; an active Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus; a large Women’s Caucus; openly gay people. It represents America, this Caucus does.

"I come as the Leader to celebrate not only the ruling from the pages of history, but a challenge to the conscience as a people that will forever shape the destiny of our nation. When the Supreme Court declared in 1954 that ‘separate but equal’ has no place in our society, it empowered people of principle all over this land.

"I want to join Chairman Cummings in quoting the Chief Justice at the time, Earl Warren. He managed to convince other justices to pass a unanimous decision, and he said, in defining separate but equal: ‘To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.’ How wise he was, how great he was, how fortunate for our country that we undid that grave injustice.

"Chairman Cummings and I hail from Baltimore, and when the decision came down, my father was the mayor of Baltimore. When Brown was announced, my father recognized the moral imperative of the decision and immediately issued a statement which said: ‘This is the law of the land . . . it will be enforced in Baltimore City.’

"The school board of Baltimore City called for immediate integration. This was an autonomous school board, and I especially want to recognize a gentleman named Walter Sondheim, who was one of the leaders who enabled the school board to act with quick dispatch. The high schools were integrated within the week.

"It was simple. No debate. No discussion. No questions. The law of the land would be enforced.

"Heroes make history. As we honor the ruling itself, we also honor the pioneers who made it possible. The brilliant NAACP legal team, including Charles Hamilton Houston; Thurgood Marshall; Robert L. Carter; Kenneth B. Clark. In addition, I want to acknowledge Judge Constance Motley. And the courageous, 7-year old Linda Brown, her proud parents, and the nearly 200 plaintiffs from around the country. They broke the shackles of Jim Crow by making Brown a reality.

"We honor the leaders of our time who carry on their work: Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Hilary Shelton, NAACP Director of the Washington National Office, Marissa Demeo of MALDEF, Karen Narasoky of the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, and countless souls who carry on the fight for equality and justice.

"On occasions such as this, we must do more than remember the past. As our theme today challenges us, we must remember and continue ‘Fulfilling the Promise.’

"The Brown decision helped ignite a movement that within a decade led to the largest demonstration for social justice in American history - the 1963 March on Washington. And on that day, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of ‘the fierce urgency of now.’ ‘Now’ he said, ‘is the time to make justice a reality for all God’s children.’

"Forty years later, Democrats and hopefully all of us, still believe in the ‘fierce urgency of now.’ We believe that now, indeed we are overdue, now is the time to stand up for poor and minority students who are concentrated in schools that fail to meet their needs.

"We believe that now is the time to take solid, bold actions - such as the bill Congressman Chaka Fattah will discuss today - not empty gestures or gimmicks that undermine public education and offer false hope.

"And we believe that now is the time to fund the No Child Left Behind Act - Congressman George Miller will speak to that - to give schools the resources they need to improve performance, and to ensure that lack of resources does not close the door to higher education.

"Equal education for all - this is the unfinished business of our nation. So let us fulfill the promise of Brown and build one America, of equality and opportunity, where every child realizes their God-given potential. And let us resolve to finally ‘make justice a reality for all God’s children.’

"God bless the heroes of Brown. God bless America."




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