URBANA – The University of Illinois will host a yearlong series of events beginning this fall to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education.
The events will examine the legacy of the decision, in which the court ruled that a "separate but equal" education for blacks and whites was unconstitutional.
A discussion with several original Freedom Riders, talks by national authors on race and identity, a project to collect oral histories from local residents and efforts to address the achievement gap in local schools will be part of the activities.
UI officials will discuss the events with community and education leaders at a working reception this evening.
"We really wanted it to be a critical analysis of the impact of Brown v. Board of Education," said Susan Fowler, dean of the UI's College of Education, who co-chaired the committee planning the commemoration events.
"We wanted to look at what progress has been made in terms of education, access and equity," Fowler said. "We wanted to take a fairly broad-scale look at the impact of Brown on educational and social issues in terms of opening the way for other groups of people who have been disenfranchised, and also in what ways they have not been impacted, such as increasing segregation in some of our cities."
She said related issues include education for children with disabilities, Title IX, which gave women equal opportunities in college sports, issues related to gender identity and gay rights, and religious freedom.
She said the UI also wants to build a greater awareness among today's students of the importance of the decision.
"It's not really a living, day-to-day issue for many collegiate students," Fowler said. "Trying to make it relevant and (create an) understanding of how the world has changed in 50 years is certainly one of the goals."
The suggestion for the commemoration came from a Diversity Initiatives Committee appointed by former Chancellor Michael Aiken and Provost Richard Herman to consider ways to promote diversity on campus.
The schedule of activities is the culmination of more than a year of planning by a 12-person committee.
The committee will bring in a series of prominent speakers, starting with Juan Williams, author of "Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965" and the biography, "Thurgood Marshall – An American Revolutionary." Williams is also a commentator on National Public Radio and a political analyst for Fox News Network. He will speak at Foellinger Auditorium Sept. 29.
In October, as part of the 35th reunion of Project 500, the Rev. Ben Cox and other Freedom Riders will share their experiences in a panel discussion. Project 500 was an affirmative action program to bring 500 new black students to the UI in 1968.
The commemoration will also include a book series in which local and national authors will talk about their books about race and identity. The book series begins Sept. 17 with UI journalism Professor Walt Harrington, who wrote "Crossings: A White Man's Journey Into Black America."
Other authors include Joy Williamson, author of "Black Power on Campus: The University of Illinois 1965-1975," and another UI journalism professor, Leon Dash, author of "When Children Want Children."
The book discussions will take place once a month at noon at the University YMCA.
The UI also funded 25 projects analyzing or reflecting on the impact of the Brown decision. They include:
– UI researchers working with community groups to address the achievement gap in Champaign-Urbana schools and improve the graduation rates of minority students.
– Documentation of the history and work of UI-educated black architects.
– A panel discussion by a group of experts on Native American history and culture, who will discuss depictions of Native Americans and the impact of Dee Brown, a journalist and former UI librarian who wrote "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee."
– A series of radio and television programs that will include a recording of oral histories of local residents discussing the time of the Brown decision. Young people from the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club will help record the oral histories.
– A conference to assess the impact of Title IX on women in college athletics.
– Panels and speakers at Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival to address film-related issues arising from the Brown decision.
– A series of exhibits by the UI Library highlighting its collection of civil rights-era resources. They will include traveling exhibits to be displayed in Springfield, Chicago and at schools and museums.
Finally, a conference on law and education next spring will address the next set of legal issues relating to equal opportunities for minorities, as well as how the Brown decision affected opportunities for those with disabilities, women and gays. The conference will also look at issues related to segregation and resegregation.
Julian Bond, a civil rights activist, professor, writer and chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, will speak at the conference.
Also speaking will be the Sixth Circuit federal chief judge, Boyce Martin, who decided the University of Michigan affirmative action cases at the appellate level.
"If we come out of it with more race awareness and a deeper understanding of our time and what this country is going through now, I think we will have accomplished something," said Rose Ann Miron, who is helping organize the events as special projects coordinator for the chancellor's office.
For more information about the events planned for the Brown v. Board of Education commemoration, see the Web site, www.admin.uiuc.edu/brown.
You can reach Jodi Heckel at (217) 351-5216 or by e-mail at email@example.com.