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Brown-ian Motions - Black Students Are Still Waiting For Educational Equality

Publication Date: 
May 14, 2014
National Review
Kevin D. Williamson

The Los Angeles Times quotes Professor David Freeman Engstrom on early attempts at civil rights reform 60 years after the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education.

Sixty years ago this week, the Supreme Court handed down its epoch-making decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The aftermath of Brown changed a great deal, from the role of the Court in our constitutional and political order to the national attitude toward civil rights and the very foundations of our political discourse.

It didn’t much change education.


Conservatives, at the time, were torn between their desire that government should make no distinctions between the races and their antagonism toward judicial imperialism. Conservatives, then as now, also were deeply influenced by their belief that the law could only do so much to remake social realities. The Republican party has a remarkably consistent belief, from the Lincoln era through the present day, that the main drivers of salubrious social change must be free enterprise and economic self-improvement. It is for that reason that Senator Robert Taft of Ohio — “Mr. Republican,” the Senate’s leading conservative — floated a largely forgotten proposal in 1946 that would have been the most sweeping civil-rights reform since the Reconstruction amendments, focusing mainly on the problem of employment discrimination. David Freeman Engstrom revisited that episode in a 2006 article and documented that the Taft bill, unlike many similar earlier offerings, contained very strong enforcement mechanisms, giving it real teeth, up to and including the implementation of hiring quotas. The Taft measure won the support of the noted black labor leader A. Philip Randolph, but was rejected by the NAACP and the AFL, the latter in part very probably because, as Mr. Engstrom notes, the Taft plan would have “exposed union locals to regulation.”