Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona Delivers Remarks for Brown V. Board of Education 70th Anniversary Event

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona Delivers Remarks for Brown V. Board of Education 70th Anniversary Event

May 15, 2024

Good afternoon.

I want to thank Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice for hosting us today.

And a big thank you to our team at the Department of Education and the Office for Civil Rights, as well as our White House Initiatives teams.

The fact that we are taking this moment today to mark the anniversary of a Supreme Court ruling that happened 70 years ago… before most of us were born—is testament to its legacy.

70 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of educational equity for all students, because of the Black families and children who dared to fight the profound injustice of inequitable funding and formal segregation in public schools.

What happened in Topeka was tested in schools and communities across the country: In Little Rock, where Black teenagers faced down angry, racist mobs to enter their high school.

In New Orleans, where four first grade girls rode to elementary school with U.S. Marshals, through throngs of protestors, so they could blaze a trail.

Three of them are here with us today—in this room or virtually. Can we all just take a moment to thank Leona Tate, Gail Etienne, and Tessie Prevost?

Their bravery changed this country. Brown v. Board of Education sent a message and it set a marker for what we consider normal and acceptable.

Brown v. Board and its legacy remind us of who we want to be as a nation: a place that upholds the values of justice and equity as its highest ideals.

Over the course of the last 70 years, we’ve often struggled to live up to these ideals. Black students may no longer need to be escorted to school by U.S. Marshals, may no longer face angry mobs on their way to school, or eat at separate lunch tables.

But today, we have a system where we have normalized underinvesting in schools that serve majority Black communities.

We’ve normalized a culture of low expectations for some students…and then we give them inadequate resources and support.

It’s become all too “normal” for some to deny the legacies of racism and segregation…or ban books that teach Black history, when we know that Black history is American history.

Research has shown that, even though formalized segregation has ended, a broken status quo of de facto school segregation has not only persisted but gotten worse over the last thirty years—especially in our largest school districts. This isn’t just between Black and White students. Hispanic and Asian students are also attending more segregated schools. Students today are less likely to learn alongside students who don’t look and think like them, and who come from different backgrounds and different faiths.

And they’ve found that this can’t only be explained by housing segregation or demographic changes.

It’s also the painful result of choices made in our courts and by local leaders…choices that make it easy to slowly slide back.

That means we’ve got work to do—but it also means all of us can do it. Because we can make new, better choices. As educators and advocates we embrace the charge to not simply guard the progress we’ve made but push it forward.

We can’t take progress for granted. Continued progress takes bold leadership, and the will to fight for change.

You know, I’ve been to Selma and walked the Edmund Pettus Bridge, along with Merrick Garland. I’ve been to Little Rock Central High School and last year, kicked off my annual Back-to-School Bus tour in Topeka. I’ve listened to students there talk proudly about their history and civil rights legacy. I’m in awe.

But you know what inspires me just as much?

Being part of an administration that’s raising the bar when it comes to funding schools equitably…

That’s attracting, developing, and supporting a diverse educator workforce. That’s putting federal dollars into schools and districts across the country that develop programs aimed at fostering diverse schools.

Unapologetically and intentionally.
I’m proud to lead an agency responsible for enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, where our team upholds these highest values of equality of education through the law.

Brown v. Board of Education helped make our work possible. It’s an awesome responsibility we take seriously. But we don’t do it alone. We do it with all of you.

We commemorate anniversaries not just to reminisce but to reaffirm. So, I’m asking all of you today to mark this occasion by reaffirming your commitment to progress. To resisting a normal that’s anything less than high-quality education for all our nation’s students.

Thank you.