Ahead of the Brown v. Board of Education 70th Anniversary, Durbin Reflects on the Progress We've Made and the Work That Remains

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today spoke on the Senate floor highlighting the upcoming 70th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, in which the Supreme Court unanimously declared the racist legal doctrine of “separate but equal” unconstitutional. 

“Today, we celebrate this historic anniversary and how far we have come as a country since the dark days of Jim Crow.  Thankfully, we have made substantial progress in addressing racial disparities in our education system,” Durbin said.  “However, significant, systemic disparities do still exist today, and more work must be done to promote racial equity and end discrimination inside and outside the classroom.” 

During his remarks, Durbin reflected on the disparities in our school systems.  When the Supreme Court announced its decision in 1954, the demographics of American school-aged children were significantly different than they are today.  At that time, the school-age population, according to The Century Foundation, was roughly 85 percent White, 12 percent Black, and less than four percent other races.  Today, America’s school-age population is much more diverse: 48 percent White, 27 percent Hispanic, 15 percent Black, six percent Asian, one percent American Indian, and four percent multiracial.  Yet even with this increase in diversity, America’s schools too often remain segregated by race.  As of the 2018–2019 school year, one in six public school students attended schools where more than 90 percent of their peers had the same racial background.

Durbin continued, “Illinois alone has three of the country’s top 11 most segregated urban school districts.  This lack of racial diversity in our schools is caused in part by unfair, exclusionary zoning policies that keep low-income families out of schools in wealthier communities.”

“Education can play a significant role in helping to close the wealth gap between families, but unfortunately, due to modern-day segregation, many Black and Brown students often cannot access the same high-quality education as their White peers… While school segregation is not at pre-Brown v. Board of Education levels, it is still high and has been rising steadily since the late 1980s.  And because where you go to school depends on your ZIP code, students from poor neighborhoods in segregated cities are often trapped in underperforming schools.  Dismantling segregation has become more difficult now than it would have been 70 or 80 years ago.  But we cannot ignore the challenge,” Durbin said. 

During his remarks, Durbin then reflected on recent attacks on equal opportunity in education.  Last year, the Supreme Court struck down decades of precedent by ruling that affirmative action policies at two universities were unconstitutional. 

“The attack on affirmative action threatens not just opportunities in education, but also equal access to employment and contracts for minorities,” Durbin said. 

“The decision rewinds the clock and recreates barriers to entry for young minority students looking to pursue a degree in higher education and advance beyond college.”

Durbin then called on Congress to focus on enacting policies and using their resources to provide all students with the tools they need to learn and thrive.

Durbin concluded, “As we celebrate 70 years since this historic decision, we honor the brave individuals who fought hard to bring it to reality.   Those of us here today must honor their determination and sacrifice by continuing their mission for fairness.  On this 70th anniversary, I urge my colleagues to continue working towards equality within our education system and society.  Because it is long overdue for us to repair the broken systems that no longer serve our children, our grandchildren, and our country.”

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here for TV Stations.