Saturday, May 17 marked the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, and leaders from all across the country took action to voice their remarks on the legacy of a case that impacted America’s education system forever. While President Obama met with families of the plaintiffs involved in the Brown case and FLOTUS traveled to Topeka to speak to graduating high school students, Attorney General Eric Holder spoke at Morgan State University’s 2014 Commencement ceremony telling graduating students about the impact Brown has had on his personal life and the need for us all to fight against the subtle and systematic forms of racism that exist today.
Check highlights from his speech below.
On the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education: “And although the vestiges of state-sanctioned discrimination affected many aspects of our lives – and continue to reverberate across the country even today – thanks to Brown and those who made it possible, your generation will never know a world in which “separate but equal” was the law of the land.
On honoring the trailblazers before us: “And strive to live up to the singular legacy that belongs to each Morgan graduate by virtue of the history you now inherit, the milestone anniversary we observe today, and the profound sacrifices endured by the trailblazers on whose shoulders you now stand.”
On the discrimination his father faced despite serving our country: “And when I think of the duties, the rights, and the weighty responsibilities of American citizenship – responsibilities that are now entrusted to each of you – I think of that man, my father – for whom I am named, who never lost faith in the greatness of this country even when it did not reciprocate his devotion.”
On finding your gift to the world: “Wherever you go and whatever you do, you must find your own unique ways to contribute; to blaze a path for the next generation of Morgan graduates; and to keep challenging this nation to become even greater, even fairer, and even more committed to its founding ideals.”
On the recent acts of racism that have made headlining news: “But we ought not find contentment in the fact that these high-profile expressions of outright bigotry seem atypical and were met with such swift condemnation. Because if we focus solely on these incidents – on outlandish statements that capture national attention and spark outrage on Facebook and Twitter – we are likely to miss the more hidden, and more troubling, reality behind the headlines.”
On the need to not lose sight of the subtle acts of racism that exist today: “But there are other policies that too easily escape such scrutiny because they have the appearance of being race-neutral. Their impacts, however, are anything but. This is the concern we must contend with today: policies that impede equal opportunity in fact, if not in form.”
On discrimination in schools today: “But in too many of our school districts, significant divisions persist and segregation has reoccurred – including zero-tolerance school discipline practices that, while well-intentioned and aimed at promoting school safety, affect black males at a rate three times higher than their white peers.”
On the injustices of our criminal justice system: “For instance, in our criminal justice system, systemic and unwarranted racial disparities remain disturbingly common. One study released last year by the U.S. Sentencing Commission indicated that – in recent years – African-American men have received sentences that are nearly 20 percent longer than those imposed on white males convicted of similar crimes. Another report showed that American Indians are often sentenced even more harshly.”
On the unfair voting laws that exist today: “Rather than addressing a supposedly widespread problem, these policies disproportionately disenfranchise African Americans, Hispanics, other communities of color, and vulnerable populations such as the elderly. But interfering with or depriving a person of the right to vote should never be a political aim.”
On the prevalent discrimination against men of color: “Yet we know that boys and young men of color have historically and consistently faced some of the most severe challenges to success.”
Why race is a topic that we should continue to discuss: “But discrimination does not always come in the form of a hateful epithet or a Jim Crow-like statute. And so we must continue to take account of racial inequality, especially in its less obvious forms, and actively discuss ways to combat it.”
The direct effect the Brown case has had on his career and that of the Obama administration: “After all, 60 years and one day ago, schools and other public accommodations could legally refuse entry to men like my father. Today, that devoted soldier’s son stands before you as the 82nd Attorney General of the United States of America – proudly serving in the Administration of the first African-American president to lead this nation.”