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Yearlong commemoration of Brown v. Board decision to begin

Craig Chamberlain, News Editor


a black and white graphic showing a silhouette of a female grade-school child and 50 years Brown v. Board

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A commemoration of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision begins this month at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and will continue throughout the school year.

The decision that will be 50 years old next May ended legal segregation in public schools and helped ignite the civil rights movement.

The Brown v. Board of Education Jubilee Commemoration will feature speakers, seminars, artistic and educational exhibits, performances, workshops, research projects, and other scholarly and creative works – both on campus and in the local community. Events will be sponsored by a variety of campus units, businesses and other organizations. Most events will be free and open to the public.

“It seems fitting for our institution and community to devote the 2003-2004 academic year to events and activities that celebrate both the great strides that have flowed from the Brown decision and the unfinished work that remains before us,” said Nancy Cantor, the chancellor of the Urbana campus.

The unofficial kickoff takes place Sept. 29 with a public lecture by Juan Williams, who wrote “Thurgood Marshall – American Revolutionary,” a biography of the winning lawyer in the 1954 Brown case, who would also become the first African-American associate justice of the Supreme Court. The talk is at 7 p.m. in Foellinger Auditorium, 709 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana.

Williams, a senior correspondent for National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” and a political analyst for the Fox News Channel, also wrote the bestseller “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965.” The book served as the companion volume to the Public Broadcasting Service documentary series of the same name.

Williams also is the author of “This Far by Faith: Stories From the African-American Religious Experience,” published this year, a companion volume to another PBS series, which traces the African-American religious experience through three centuries. His previous journalism experience included more than two decades at the Washington Post, where he worked as an editorial writer, op-ed columnist and White House reporter.

On Sept. 28, the day before Williams’ talk, the 1991 film “Separate But Equal” will be shown at 7 p.m. at the Virginia Theater, 203 W. Park Ave., Champaign, the first in a Brown-related film series organized by the News-Gazette. The film dramatizes the Brown case. The screening was made possible by Paramount Pictures. Admission is $5.

Other events on the calendar for the first month of the Brown commemoration:

• Sept. 17 – Journalism professor Walt Harrington discusses his book “Crossing: A White Man’s Journey Into Black America”; noon, University YMCA, 1001 S. Wright St., Champaign.

• Sept. 30 – A talk by Jaime Escalante, the teacher portrayed in “Stand and Deliver,” a 1988 film that dramatized his efforts to help underachieving Latino students pass an advanced placement calculus test; 7 p.m., auditorium, Smith Memorial Hall, 805 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana.

• Until Sept. 30 – An exhibit on display in the first floor hallway of the Library, 1408 W. Gregory Drive, Urbana, titled “Separate and Unequal: Segregation and Three Generations of Black Response, 1870-1950.”

• Oct. 2 – Peter Irons, professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, discusses his book “Jim Crow’s Children: The Broken Promise of the Brown Decision,” noon, University YMCA. Irons is the author of numerous books, among them “A People’s History of the Supreme Court.”

The Brown commemoration is part of Chancellor Cantor’s “Exploring the Human Experience” initiative that incorporates one topic into the academic, research, and engagement missions of the campus each year.

Updates on future events and activities related to the Brown events can be found online.