- The Washington Times - Monday, May 17, 2004

TOPEKA, Kan. — President Bush yesterday hailed the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, which ended legal segregation in public schools and “the humiliation of an entire race.”

Mr. Bush’s 12-minute speech marked the grand opening of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site, formerly Monroe Elementary School, one of the segregated schools that black children were forced to attend until the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision to end the concept of “separate but equal” schools.

“Segregation dulled the conscience of people who knew better,” Mr. Bush said under sunny skies and among a crowd of about 3,000. “It fed the violence of people with malice in their hearts. And however it was defended, segregation could never be squared with the ideals of America.”

Mr. Bush landed in Topeka just a few hours after Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry delivered a speech marking the anniversary by saying that “as far as we’ve come, we still have not met the promise of Brown.”

“We should not delude ourselves into thinking that the work of Brown is done when there are those who still seek, in different ways, to see it undone — to roll back affirmative action, to restrict equal rights, to undermine the promise of our Constitution,” Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Bush said that before the civil rights movement, which began in earnest in the United States after the Brown decision, “generations of African-American citizens grew up under laws designed to demean them.”

Joined on stage by Education Secretary Rod Paige, who as a child attended segregated schools in southern Mississippi, Mr. Bush said that it is important that young Americans don’t forget that “segregation is a living memory, and many still carry its scars.”

“Under the rule of Jim Crow, almost no detail of life escaped the supervision of cruel and petty men,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush used the occasion to tout his education plan, which strives to improve failing schools — often in poor, inner-city areas — by tying federal funding levels to reading and math scores.

“While our schools are no longer segregated by law, they are still not equal in opportunity and excellence,” Mr. Bush said. “Justice requires more than a place in a school. Justice requires that every school teach every child in America.”

Mr. Kerry used his speech to criticize Mr. Bush’s No Child Left Behind initiative. Although federal spending on education is reaching record levels, Mr. Kerry said it is not enough.

“We know the answer is both higher expectations and greater resources,” Mr. Kerry said, who advocates increased pay for teachers, a key Democratic constituency. “You cannot promise No Child Left Behind and then pursue policies that leave millions of children behind.”

Mr. Kerry cited statistics showing that one-third of black children live in poverty, only 50 percent of black men in New York City are employed, 50 percent of black children graduate from high school and 18 percent graduate from college.

Mr. Kerry also made two references to his service in Vietnam, a subject that often finds its way into speeches unrelated to war or the military.

“I can tell you from firsthand experience that service to our country — loyalty to mission and to brother and sister soldiers on the battlefield — knows no color line,” Mr. Kerry said. “Whether we are new immigrants or our descendants came here on the Mayflower or were brought here on a slave ship in shackles, when we fight side by side in places like Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re all Americans sacrificing for the same country and praying to the same God.”

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