TOPEKA — A mural commemorating the Brown v. Board of Education case was unveiled Thursday at the Kansas Capitol on the 64th anniversary of the landmark decision that ruled segregated schooling unconstitutional.
“This is a great day for the soul of Kansas,” Gov. Jeff Colyer said.
During the ceremony, Colyer signed a proclamation recognizing the anniversary of the 1954 decision.
“As we look back on the Brown v. Board of Education decision, we remember the courage and the determination of many Kansans who have taken a stand against segregation and discrimination,” Colyer said.
Cheryl Brown Henderson, founder of The Brown Foundation, said the Browns had been connected in the Capitol. A mural of abolitionist John Brown is located on the second floor of the Statehouse, while the Brown v. Board mural is on the third floor, symbolically placed near the entrance to the Old Supreme Courtroom.
Henderson read a roll call of community members who played a role in the case, including attorneys, plaintiffs and Topeka NAACP members.
Janet Thompson Jackson, chairwoman of The Brown Foundation, reflected on the definition of an unveiling.
“Taking something hidden and bringing it out into the open. Taking something shrouded and bringing it into the light,” Jackson said. “For far too long, the equal brilliance of children of color, black children, was covered up by a system of oppression that has been unveiled.”
She then asked, are we done?
“This is a very important moment, and this amazing mural in this space is so special. But we’re not done. There is so much more unveiling that needs to happen in this nation,” she said. “For what people in communities of color have known and seen for years, for decades, the public is now seeing in the newspaper. And so unveiling continues to happen and needs to continue to happen.”
On Thursday, The Topeka Capital-Journal published an analysis examining two decades of shifting student demographics in Topeka and Shawnee County.
U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson noted that the Brown case remained open until 1999, when both parties agreed the court’s ruling had been fully implemented in Topeka’s public schools.
“(Education)’s about opportunity, it’s about exposure, it’s about experience, it’s about affinity, it’s about collaboration and it’s about community,” Robinson said. “Black, white and brown children benefit and even blossom in a learning environment in which they have shared experiences and equal opportunities, shared affinity and united community.”
Kevin Myles, regional director of the NAACP, said the mural’s theme was one of inclusion.
“The story of America is not complete unless it includes everybody,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said the idea for the mural was first proposed during the 2008 legislative session. He read from testimony he gave a decade ago in support of the measure.
“Brown v. Board of Education is not simply a story about children or education. It is a story about courage and hope,” Hensley said. “It initiated educational and social reform throughout the United States and paved the way for the modern civil rights movement.”
The bill passed in March 2009.
“I’m very pleased that this day has come,” Hensley said Thursday. “It’s very gratifying now to see it up on the wall. It’s a beautiful mural ... It’s an everlasting legacy for this building and for the people of Kansas.”
Michael Young, of Kansas City, Kan., was chosen as the artist. Young said he began researching the case in 2012 by reading and watching documentaries. The mural depicts major themes of the struggle for integration and the importance of education. There are also smaller details, such as Sumner Elementary School, where Linda Brown’s father tried to enroll her, and Monroe Elementary School, which she attended.
“The Brown v. Board of Education mural here at the State Capitol is an opportunity to tell the story of hope, faith and struggle and then ultimately, triumph,” said Kenya Cox, executive director of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission.