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University of Iowa News Release

Jan. 22, 2004

Law Professor Smith Keynotes At Valparaiso Law School's MLK Program

University of Iowa law professor Peggie Smith delivered the keynote address at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day event at Valparaiso University School of Law in Indiana on Monday, discussing Brown v. Board of Education. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Brown.

Smith's lecture, "Fighting the Re-segregation of Public Education: the Legacy of Briggs v. Elliot," focused on the historical legacy of Briggs v. Elliot, one of the lesser known of the school desegregation cases that the Supreme Court handed down in 1954. Although Brown v. Board of Education is much more widely known, the Briggs case started the legal battle to end public school desegregation and was actually heard first by the U.S. Supreme Court before the Court combined it with Brown and three other cases when the final decision was rendered in 1954.

"I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with the Valparaiso students about a pivotal decision that few of them have heard about," said Smith.

The Briggs case stemmed from efforts of black parents in Clarendon County, S.C. who sued the local school board in 1947 to challenge the inferior education that black children were receiving at the segregated all-black schools in the Clarendon town of Summerton. Smith is currently researching the effects the Supreme Court's decision has had on Clarendon County schools in the last half-century. Much of her research has a personal resonance for Smith, as she grew up in Clarendon County and went to school in Manning, the town adjacent to Summerton.

Smith told the Valparaiso audience that several studies in recent years -- including a Harvard University study just released this week -- are showing that many school districts that were integrated as a result of the Brown decision are now re-segregating. The re-segregation reflects a weakening of Brown by subsequent judicial decisions, as well as demographic shifts, changing housing patterns and persistent economic disparities.

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.