Congress Expands Brown v. Board of Education Historic Site Beyond Kansas

A tour group observes the Brown v. Board mural on the third floor of the Kansas Statehouse, April 26 (Sherman Smith / States Newsroom)

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The U.S. House cleared a bill Tuesday that would expand the Kansas site honoring the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning school segregation, adding National Park Service sites in other states to commemorate their roles in the decision as well.

The bill would designate sites related to school desegregation cases in Virginia, Delaware, South Carolina and the District of Columbia as important parts of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that ended legal school segregation. All sites would be managed by the National Park Service.

The House passed the bill by voice vote Tuesday, with no member raising an objection. The Senate also passed the bill by voice vote April 6, meaning the House action Tuesday sends the measure to the White House for President Joe Biden’s signature.

Congress designated a national historic site in Topeka, Kansas, in 1992 to honor Linda Brown, the first named plaintiff in the combined Brown v. Board of Education case, and her family.

But the Supreme Court’s Brown ruling was the result of Brown and four other suits and there is no NPS site to recognize the other cases.

The site in Topeka honoring Brown “tells the story of the ordinary people who took this extraordinary action to ensure their children had equal educational opportunities,” House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat who is the highest-ranking Black member of Congress, said Tuesday.

“However, the other communities involved in this historic effort have no National Park Service presence acknowledging their contributions,” he added. “This bill rights that wrong.”

One of the cases that the court heard with Brown was Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County. Under the bill, the site of the all-Black Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia, which was the subject of the suit, will become an affiliate of the National Park Service.

The site gained national historic status in 1998 and has operated as a museum since 2001. Even with the NPS designation, the site would still be managed locally.

The bill would also add one acre of land adjacent to the current Topeka site.

It requires the Department of Interior to develop a management plan for each site.

“In recent years, the National Park Service has made a concerted effort to provide a more inclusive look at American history to ensure that our parks tell the stories of all Americans,” U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, an Oregon Republican who led the GOP floor debate on the bill, said. “I applaud the National Park Service for its efforts to make all Americans feel welcome and included in our national park system.”

Arizona Democrat Raul Grijalva, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee that oversees national parks, said the acknowledgement of all plaintiffs in the case was important.

“This legislative effort will continue to elevate the important stories and education of the civil rights movement,” he said.

The Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site would become the Brown v. Board of Education National Historical Park under the legislation.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

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