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Obama praises historic case that defied ‘Jim Crow’

1954 ruling hit separate schools

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Friday marked the 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision by recommitting to ‘‘the long struggle to stamp out bigotry and racism in all their forms.’’

Obama also met Friday in the White House East Room with families of the plaintiffs, lead attorneys Jack Greenberg and William Coleman, and members of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Greenberg argued the case; Coleman was a leading legal strategist.

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Obama said the decision, issued May 17, 1954, was ‘‘the first major step in dismantling the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine that justified Jim Crow,’’ the racial segregation laws that were in place at the state and local level across the South.

‘‘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.

‘‘We reaffirm our belief that all children deserve an education worthy of their promise,’’ he said. “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.’’

Obama pledged to never forget the men, women, and children who took ‘‘extraordinary risks in order to make our country more fair and more free.’’

‘‘Today, it falls on us to honor their legacy by taking our place in their march and doing our part to perfect the union we love,’’ he said.

Michelle Obama on Friday observed the anniversary by visiting Topeka, Kan., site of the lawsuit that initiated the case. She met with 11 high school students at the national park in Topeka dedicated to the Brown decision, at the site of a former all-black elementary school.

‘‘It’s just going to be essential for you guys to succeed,’’ she told sophomores and juniors in a federally funded program to help at-risk students prepare for higher education.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that separating black and white children was unconstitutional, because it denied black children the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

The case was named for Oliver Brown, whose daughter Linda was barred from a white elementary school. Brown died of a heart attack in 1961. Linda Brown helped found the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence, and Research.

Advocates of equal rights say many inequities in education still exist for black students and for Hispanics, a population that has grown exponentially since the 1954 ruling.

‘‘What we've seen in 60 years is that the courts were able to highlight what was wrong and say stop it, but the courts by themselves do not create the moral authority and the concrete steps to make the promise of public education a reality for all children,’’ said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

The Civil Rights Project at UCLA, using Education Department data, has found that segregation has been rising since 1990, and that black students nationally are substantially more segregated than they were in 1970.

Civil rights data recently released by the Education Department showed wide disparities in all aspects of education.

Among the findings: minority students are less likely to have access to advanced math and science classes. Black students of any age — even preschoolers — are more likely to be suspended. And, there continue to be gaps between the performance on national assessments between whites and black and Hispanic students, with whites scoring higher.

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