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Decision celebrated

Dozens gather to discuss effects of Brown v. Board

Dozens gather to discuss effects of Brown v. Board

May 18, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

People who gathered at a Hagerstown community center Monday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended segregation in schools said they believed that decision improved their lives, but that racial inequality still exists.

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Brown v. Board of Education that separating black and white students violated the 14th Amendment to the constitution.

About 50 people gathered Monday at Memorial Recreation Center on West North Avenue, where speakers discussed the effects of the decision, and residents grilled food, handed out balloons to youngsters and talked about the effects of the decision on their lives.

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Martha Butler Cheeves, of Hagerstown, said she finished high school before schools were integrated.

She said she was enrolled at the old North Street School in the 1930s, but when she finished eighth grade, her parents sent her to school in the Bronx, N.Y., for a better education.

"The school was beautiful up here" in Hagerstown, Cheeves said. "You were disciplined. You were taught right from wrong."

But Cheeves and others recalled that the school, which was in what is now the recreation center building before moving next door to what is now the Martin Luther King Center, didn't have school supplies that the white schools did. When Cheeves attended, there was no indoor gymnasium, she said.

Cheeves said she believes the Supreme Court decision helped racial integration in Hagerstown beyond the classroom walls.

"You didn't see white people up here (on Jonathan Street) unless they were insurance men," Cheeves said.

Monique Evans, 42, said her children go to school in Hagerstown, and she doesn't feel that her kids see differences between blacks and whites.

"That's a good thing. People are people," Evans said.

Although the Brown decision declared illegal "separate but equal" facilities, those celebrating the decision Monday said there are still inequities in schools and elsewhere.

Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan spoke at the event, as did Robert "Bob" Johnson, Washington County's first black athletic coach, event organizer Brian Robinson and others.

Black students are the largest minority population in Washington County schools, and as a group they do not perform as well as their white counterparts, Morgan said after her remarks.

"The main thing that we have to do is provide equal access," Morgan said. She said the Minority Achievement Task Force, which she unveiled Monday to the Washington County Board of Education, would try to begin to address achievement problems.

"I think we have to examine ourselves," Morgan said. "Can we make a difference today? Probably not." But she said it was her hope that the new program would begin to make a difference in minority achievement levels within five to 10 years.

Ted Lee, 49, of Hagerstown, said he believes there are still too few blacks in positions of power, whether it's teachers or elected officials.

That can give "a sense of inferiority," Lee said.

Robinson, who directs a local youth mentor program, said he feels Brown made things better for blacks, but he still sometimes feels like he's treated differently because of the color of his skin.

"And it's not gonna change unless we continue to educate ourselves," Robinson said.

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