To win equality by law In 1954, in Brown v Board of Education the Supreme Court unanimously held that the doctrine of “separate but equal,” established in Plessy v. Ferguson violated the 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. But did that really change America? What exactly does “equal” mean? Thurgood Marshall, an attorney for the NAACP, argued the case of Brown v. Board of Education before the United States Supreme Court. He later became the first black United States Supreme Court justice. After his retirement, he was asked what he thought “equal” meant. He replied: “Equal means getting the same thing, at the same time, and in the same place.” How has the concept of “equal” changed over the last 50 years?In 1930, Thurgood Marshall applied to the University of Maryland Law School, but was denied admission because he was black. Affirmative Action policies were instituted in the 1960’s to remedy perceived injustice caused by historical racial discrimination. Formerly, race was used as a means to keep minorities out of colleges; now race is used as a means to get minorities into colleges. Journalist and biographer Juan Williams interviewed Thurgood Marshall and asked him his view of the politics of race in America. Justice Marshall answered, “Discrimination as usual. You have to be exactly better than the white man. Well, your whole background is that you never have been better, and the white man has had it all along. There’s not a white man in this country that can say ‘never benefited by being white.’ There’s not a white man in the country that can say it.” Justice Marshall believed, decades after Brown v. Board of Education, that the elimination of desegregation was only a piece of the puzzle; simply “being white” gives you certain inherent benefits, even in the absence of government-approved segregation or intentional discrimination. This was precisely the situation which affirmative action was meant to correct—to “level the playing field” and provide opportunities that have historically been denied to minorities solely because of their race. To win equality by law Editor’s Note: The following essay was written by Erica Emas, a 16-year-old student at Miami Killian Senior High School. The essay won the Florida Law Week Essay contest and was read by Emas at the Supreme Court ceremonial session recognizing the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. Forty years ago, a single image first seared the heart and stirred the conscience of our nation; so powerful most of us who saw it then recall it still. A 15-year-old girl wearing a crisp black and white dress, carrying only a notebook, surrounded by large crowds of boys and girls, men and women, soldiers and police officers, her head held high, her eyes fixed straight ahead. And she is utterly alone. On September 4th, 1957, Elizabeth Eckford walked to this door for her first day of school, utterly alone. She was turned away by people who were afraid of change, instructed by ignorance, hating what they simply could not understand. And America saw her, haunted and taunted for the simple color of her skin, and in the image we caught a very disturbing glimpse of ourselves. June 1, 2004 Erica Emas Regular News Bill Clinton illustrated his point clearly when delivering the above speech (known as “The Central High Speech”) in September of 1997. We as Americans have made little progress in the integration of our society. Today, children of every race walk through the same schoolhouse door, but then they often walk down different halls. Not only in Central High, but in high schools across America, students congregate in separate areas, eat at separate tables, sit in different sections of the bleachers at football games. Many students choose to be with people of their own race or ethnicity because it feels “safe” and comfortable.The same can be said of adults 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education. While pride in our ethnicity and heritage is important, we also pay a price — ethnic “ghettos” by choice. Miami has Little Havana, Little Haiti, and dozens of other tight-knit communities without nicknames but with a similar uniformity in the makeup of its residents. Far too many communities are all-white, all-African American, all-Hispanic, all-Haitian. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., 40 years ago said, “Sunday is the most segregated day in America.” He meant that in our public lives (during the school week, for example) the law requires integration of the races. But in our private lives, in our private choices (attending church on Sunday for example), Americans continue to live segregated, separated lives. Indeed, too many Americans of all races have actually begun to give up on the idea of integration and the search for common ground. The Little Rock Nine taught us that we need one America and we cannot have one America for free, without sacrifice. Not 50 years ago, not today. If those nine children could walk up those steps 40 years ago, all alone, if their parents could send them into the storm armed only with school books and the righteousness of their cause, then surely together we can build one America — an America that ensures no future generation of our children will have to live in fear and ignorance of our fellow Americans, whatever their race or ethnicity.In so many ways, we continue to hold ourselves back from what we, together, could become. We retreat into the comfortable enclaves of ethnic isolation. We simply choose not to interact with people who are different from us. Segregation is no longer the law, but too often, separation is still the rule. And we cannot ignore one stubborn fact that remains crystal clear: So long as we choose to remain separate, we will never all truly be equal.