Feb. 27, 2004 | KU Radio News Line

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Contact: Frank Barthell, University Relations, (785) 864-8869.

Radio News Line text:
KU professor: Brown ruling was based on social research, not legal precedent

FIFTY YEARS AFTER THE SUPREME COURT HANDED DOWN ITS HISTORIC DECISION IN THE CASE OF BROWN VERSUS BOARD OF EDUCATION OF TOPEKA, THREE HUNDRED UNIVERSITY OF KANSAS STUDENTS ARE STUDYING THE BROADER CONTEXT OF THE CASE.

K-U PROFESSOR OF AMERICAN STUDIES AND SOCIOLOGY NORM YETMAN IS TEACHING THE CLASS. HE SAYS THE INTERDISCIPLINARY COURSE EXAMINES THE HISTORICAL, CULTURAL, SOCIOLOGICAL AND LEGAL ORIGINS, IMPACT AND CONSEQUENCES OF THE CASE, ESPECIALLY DURING THE HALF-CENTURY SINCE THE COURT'S 1954 DECISION.

THE COURSE COINCIDES WITH K-U'S NATIONAL CONFERENCE ENTITLED, "THE LEGACIES AND UNFINISHED BUSINESS OF BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF TOPEKA," SCHEDULED FOR MARCH 14 THROUGH 17.

YETMAN SAYS THE BROWN CASE WASN'T SIMPLY ABOUT EQUAL OPPORTUNITY IN EDUCATION.

Yetman: "The Brown case was not about education per se, it was about race. The case is really about whites being unable to extend to other people access to their institutions. " (10 sec.)

YETMAN SAYS AFRICAN-AMERICANS AND MOST WHITES REACTED VERY DIFFERENTLY TO THE BROWN DECISION.

Yetman: "I think among African-Americans there was extraordinary celebration and hope that in fact, this would usher in an era in which discrimination would diminish and the full power of the federal government would be on their side. On the other hand, most whites, throughout the country but especially in the South, were strongly opposed to it." (19 sec.)

YETMAN SAYS THE BROWN DECISION, ONLY SIX PAGES LONG, IS UNIQUE BECAUSE IT WAS BASED LARGELY ON SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH.

Yetman: "One of the striking things are the footnotes, in which a great deal of their argument is not based upon legal precedent. It's based upon the realities of American society, and what the effects of segregation are upon black children. There are many legal experts who criticize it on precisely those grounds." (19 sec.)

YETMAN SAYS THE COURSE EXAMINES THE IMPACT OF SEGREGATION ON ISSUES BEYOND EDUCATION.

Yetman: "We want to also look at economics. What are the economic opportunities available for blacks? There was a dramatic improvement, about 1954 to 1973, in black median family income, for instance. But since that time it has basically stayed stagnant." (14 sec.)

NONETHELESS, YETMAN NOTES REMARKABLE PROGRESS FOR AFRICAN-AMERICANS IN SOME AREAS.

Yetman: "Obviously, the situation is different today than it was in 1954. The idea of having a secretary of state who's an African-American would have been unthinkable at that time. So there have been some very dramatic changes." (12 sec.)

YETMAN SAYS MANY ISSUES RAISED IN THE BROWN CASE ARE STILL UNRESOLVED. HE NOTES THAT IN KANSAS, SOME RESIDENTS OF WEALTHIER SCHOOL DISTRICTS DON'T WANT THEIR TAX DOLLARS FUNDING LESS AFFLUENT SCHOOL SYSTEMS.

Yetman: "But my argument is that education is a mandated state responsibility. And therefore, my taxes ought to go to equalize, to help realize a greater degree of equality, among students, no matter where they are, or what their financial conditions are in the districts in which they're found." (17 sec.)

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