National Trust for Historic Preservation and its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund join legislators on new designations

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) cosponsored legislation to honor and commemorate the historic sites that contributed to the 1954 landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Introduced by Chris Coons (D-Del.) and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), this legislation is to expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site to include historic sites in South Carolina and designate National Park Service (NPS) Affiliated Areas in other states. It would recognize the importance of the additional sites that catalyzed litigation in Delaware, South Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, and Washington, DC, and expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas. The legislation was crafted in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In the Senate, the bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

“Our nation is forever indebted to those involved in the five cases that made up Brown v. Board of Education. The struggle and perseverance of those who fought for educational equality changed the lives of countless Americans and led the way for the many Civil Rights Activists who followed,” said Senator Tim Scott. “I am proud to be a part of this bipartisan piece of legislation that aims to commemorate the struggle of those who made Brown v. Board happen, and I am especially proud of the bill’s inclusion of two Summerton, South Carolina sites significant to the Briggs v. Elliot case. This bill will help ensure that the story of Briggs v. Elliot—as well as the other cases that culminated in the Brown decision—will be told and remembered for years to come. I look forward to my Senate colleagues supporting this bill.”

 “In order to change our future, we must confront our past,” said Senator Coons. “The preservation of historic sites connected to the Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, is an important step in remembering the painful but significant impact the doctrine of separate but equal had on our nation. The Bulah v. Gebhart and Belton v. Gebhart Delaware decisions that were affirmed in Brown v. Board of Education are a story of what is possible when a mother fights for her child, and a lawyer and chancellor fight for change. I’m honored to introduce this legislation in the Senate which will preserve and share this important history.”

 “This legislative initiative has been a personal mission for me to ensure that all Brown v. Board of Education sites receive their due recognition for the contributions they made to end ‘separate but equal’ education in this country,” said Congressman Clyburn. “I am honored to represent Summerton, South Carolina, where the first case that eventually ended the practice of legal segregation, Briggs v. Elliott, originated, and I knew many of the plaintiffs in that case.  The unsung heroes of Briggs v. Elliott, and all the other plaintiffs that collectively became Brown v. Board of Education, must be remembered and memorialized to fully tell the story of how segregation ended in our nation’s public schools.”

“South Carolina played a prominent role in one of the most consequential Supreme Court decisions in the history of our nation,” said Senator Graham.  “It is important we protect and preserve these historical sites so future generations can learn from them.  I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate to advance this important legislation.”

“On April 23, 1951, a 16-year-old Barbara Johns led a walkout of students at the Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia, to protest school segregation and poor education conditions. The student-led strike in Virginia and the subsequent lawsuit became one of the five cases combined into Brown v. Board of Education.  As our country continues to grapple with the need to reckon with our past and present, it is more important than ever to highlight those Americans who time and time again have stood up and pulled our nation towards progress,” said Senator Warner. “I’m proud to join my colleagues on this bipartisan bill to expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site and recognize the vital role played by the Moton School in Farmville in ending school segregation.”

 “Brown v. Board of Education is perhaps our nation’s most important Supreme Court decision, and a number of Delawareans played a critical role in that historic case and desegregating our nation’s schools,” said Senator Carper. “‘Separate but equal’ was a fundamentally unequal principle at odds with our nation’s Constitution and our values. By recognizing Delaware’s contribution to this historic case and preserving local landmarks in our state, we will help ensure that this fight for justice is never forgotten. The Hockessin Colored School, Claymont Community Center and Howard High School are not just buildings; they are community centers, places of learning and gathering spaces that are still used today to help our communities make social progress. I’m proud to work with Senator Coons and Rep. Blunt Rochester to ensure that we confront and honor our past as we continue the hard work of building a ‘more perfect Union.’”

 “I am proud to join this bipartisan bill to honor and protect historic sites connected to Brown v. Board of Education—a watershed case in our nation’s progress toward equality for all,” said Senator Kaine. “One of the sites that will benefit is the Moton Museum, former home of the Moton School, where Barbara Johns led a protest over the intolerable conditions for Black students. It’s so important that we preserve these sites for all to reflect on the sacrifice and patriotism of leaders like Johns, Spottswood Robinson, and Oliver Hill.”

“Passage of this legislation will help us tell the full story of Brown v. Board of Education by elevating and protecting these powerful historic places and the inspiring stories of people who have not previously had their story told on a national stage,” said Katherine Malone-France, the Chief Preservation Officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

The 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was described by constitutional scholar Louis H. Pollak as “probably the most important American government act of any kind since the Emancipation Proclamation.” The Brown decision transformed the United States, striking down the separate-but-equal doctrine established by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896The Plessy decision was the linchpin that condoned and entrenched legalized segregation across the South, despite protections clearly stated in the U.S. Constitution and underscored by the 14th and 15th Amendments. 

These laws stayed in placed for nearly 100 years after Reconstruction, but pioneering civil rights lawyers like Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, William Hastie, Constance Baker Motley, Louis Lorenzo Redding, and others challenged the constitutionality of segregation and won. The Brown decision ended the practice of legalized segregation in educational facilities and was a major catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. 

The history of Brown v. Board of Education is represented in our national consciousness by a single building, Monroe School, which is a National Historic Site located in Topeka, Kansas. This limited geographic scope condenses public memory of these events and inadvertently fails to recognize the contributions of the other communities in Claymont, Delaware; Hockessin, Delaware; Wilmington, Delaware; Summerton, South Carolina; Farmville, Virginia; and the District of Columbia that were also important to the fight for equality and that saw their cases consolidated with the Brown case. The geographic dispersion of these locations demonstrates that Brown v. Board of Education is truly a story of a national struggle with national significance.

“Recognizing Hockessin Colored School #107 as an affiliated area of the National Park System is a fitting tribute to Delaware’s unique role in the Brown decision,” said the Honorable Collins J. Seitz, Jr., Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court. “Of the five cases appealed in Brown, the Delaware decision in Belton v. Gebhart – requiring the immediate admission of African American students to schools attended by white children – was the only appeal affirmed by the Supreme Court.”

 “The family of Louis L. Redding commends the preservation of these historic schools as reminders of the hard-won rights of African Americans to equal access in education,” said JB Redding, on behalf of the family of Louis L. Redding, Delaware’s first Black attorney and the lawyer who argued the Delaware school desegregation cases. “Further, their existence serves as a reminder that the struggle for full implementation of these rights continues.”

“With the path to the infamous Brown v. Board of Education beginning its genesis in Summerton, South Carolina, with the Briggs v. Elliottcase, the Clarendon School District One’s Board of Trustees and the local community is humbled and honored to have two historic facilities entrusted to the National Park Service,” said Clarendon Superintendent Barbara Champagne. “The designation of the Summerton School and the Scott’s Branch School is steeped in the authentic American story of the journey for equality and equity. The voices of those courageous men and women who were given the vision for better opportunities and for equitable resources will not remain silent or forgotten. Instead, their voices will echo through the annals of history as a reminder of what can be achieved through determination, perseverance, and faith.”

“The Robert R. Moton Museum is excited to join with communities involved in the historic Brown v. Board of Education of Topekadecision. In seeking to become an affiliated area of the National Park Service, we know this affiliation will allow us the opportunity to better collaborate with other communities involved in the historic Brown decision as we work to ensure that countless individuals have the opportunity to know of the courage and sacrifice that citizens made towards equality in education,” said Cameron D. Patterson, Executive Director of the Robert R. Moton Museum. “The Moton Museum Board of Trustees, Moton Museum Community Council, and our partner institution Longwood University in offering their support towards this effort, recognize that the resources and benefits offered from this affiliation with the National Park Service will only strengthen our ability to fulfill our mission as a museum.”

The creation of NPS Affiliated Areas in Delaware, Virginia, and the District of Columbia for sites associated with the Brown v. Board of Education case and an expansion of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site to include the related sites in South Carolina provides an opportunity for these sites to tell their own uplifting, under-recognized stories of students, parents, and their allies who helped shape American society.

Enactment of this legislation has the potential to appropriately recognize the sites associated with the other four court cases and help them to combine current uses with preservation and public education.  In collaboration with local partners and other stakeholders, the National Trust will continue their collective work to bring recognition to communities that fought for school integration, helping these sites to tell their own history of the Brown v. Board of Education case and make connections to other communities engaged in the fight for educational equity, past and present.

The bill text is available here.