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University of Iowa News Release

Oct. 3, 2003

Ogletree Reviews 50 Years Of Brown V. Board Of Education In Lecture

Brown v. Board of Education may have been one of the most momentous Supreme Court decisions in U.S. history, but subsequent legal decisions and legislative action have left its goal of equal access to education for all Americans unfulfilled, Harvard law professor and civil rights expert Charles Ogletree said at the University of Iowa College of Law Thursday.

Ogletree delivered the 2003 John F. Murray Distinguished Lecture at the UI College of Law, "Reflections on Brown v. Board of Education at 50: Gains and Losses." Next year marks the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that deemed legal racial segregation in public education to be unconstitutional. The case was the first in a series of court decisions and federal laws that ended legal racial segregation in the United States.

But Ogletree said that as momentous as the decision was, the Supreme Court undid much of its effectiveness less than two years later when it required states and school districts "move with all deliberate speed" to achieve racial equality in education.

"If you look in a dictionary, you see that deliberate means slowly," said Ogletree, a phrasing that meant local governments did not have to move quickly to put in place the requirements of Brown. As a result, local governments dragged their feet and momentum was lost.

"The remedy was fraught with problems from the start and led to the downfall of one of the most important Supreme Court decisions in history," he said.

The delay allowed opposition to the decision to crystallize, opposition that continues to this day. Ogletree pointed to such examples as Southern governors standing on the doorsteps of schools to prevent African-American children from entering, riots to oppose school busing, Senate opposition to Thurgood Marshall when he was nominated as a Supreme Court justice and the recent lawsuit against the University of Michigan's claiming its use of affirmative action in admitting students was unconstitutional.

Ogletree was heartened by the Michigan decision, however, saying the Court's ruling that colleges and universities could use race as a factor in the admissions process was a clear-cut victory in favor of diversity and racial equality and breathes new life into Brown.

"That decision says diversity is important because it's the only way we're going to provide future generations of professionals," said Ogletree.

The Murray Lecture series began in 1952 and is the oldest of the lecture series presented by the College of Law. The series was established through gifts to the UI in honor of John F. Murray, a native of Iowa and founder of the American Home Products Co., by his wife, Bessie Dutton Murray. Past speakers in the series include such luminaries as U.S. Supreme Court justices William O. Douglas and Harry Blackmun, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, Ronald Dworkin, internationally renowned jurisprudence scholar, and Stanley Fish, academic theorist and leading postmodern thinker.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010, tom-snee@uiowa.edu.