Civil-rights memory jog


Fifty years after overturning “separate-but-equal” laws and spawning the modern civil-rights movement, Brown v. Board of Education has lost its impact, Vernon Jordan, Washington lawyer and former Clinton adviser, told a Law School audience Monday afternoon. The Black Law Students Association’s Black History Month keynote speaker, Jordan—whose wife, Ann Dibble Jordan, AM’61, is a University trustee and former assistant professor in the SSA—recalled his career in Brown’s early days, defending blacks in the segregated South.

In 1960 he defended a black Georgia man accused of murder. During the trial some of the town’s black residents, “dressed in Sunday best,” laid out a festive lunch for Jordan’s legal team. In a pre-meal prayer the host said words Jordan has always remembered: “Lord, down here in Tattnall County we can’t join the NAACP, but thanks to your plentiful bounty, we can feed the NAACP lawyers.” Such “average, working-class, humble black people,” living in overwhelming fear, Jordan said, were the real force that “brought down the system that oppressed them.”

Continuing to recognize Brown, he contended, is crucial because schools are still segregated—at levels similar to 1961. The integration debate has been muddied with nuances, as politicians no longer argue outright for segregation, but “America’s color line still exists.”


March 3, 2004