President Barack Obama on Friday commemorated the 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling that outlawed racial segregation in U.S. schools and bolstered the civil rights movement that paved the way for Obama to become the first African-American president.
The unanimous May 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education grew out of a lawsuit filed by the parents of children who attended segregated schools in Topeka, Kansas. The court overturned the doctrine of “separate but equal” that allowed communities and businesses to maintain separate facilities for whites and blacks.
Despite the ruling, many communities resisted school desegregation. In the south, some officials shut schools down rather than integrate them.
The civil rights movement unfolded over many years and finally scored landmark victories in the mid-1960s, after mass protests caught the attention of the country and Congress passed legislation guaranteeing voting and civil rights.
“As we commemorate this historic anniversary, we recommit ourselves to the long struggle to stamp out bigotry and racism in all their forms,” Obama said in a statement.
“And we remember that change did not come overnight – that it took many years and a nationwide movement to fully realize the dream of civil rights for all of God's children,” he added.
As the first U.S. president of African ancestry, Obama, who was born years after the court decision, is himself seen as a milestone on the path toward racial equality in the United States.
The president met at the White House with the families and plaintiffs in the historic case, along with surviving attorneys Jack Greenberg and William Coleman and members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Legal Defense Fund. The meeting was closed to the media.
The president's wife, Michelle, visited the formerly all-black Monroe School in Topeka, where the children whose families filed the lawsuit were students, on Friday.