68 years ago today, the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka verdict made racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional.
The 1954 landmark supreme case gave Black children access to the same education as their white peers. On a wider scale, the verdict pushed the civil rights movement forward by beginning a domino effect that ended Jim Crow laws and dismantled the validity of "separate but equal."
However, despite the case's many successes, Black teachers faced the brunt of its unforeseen shortcomings.
As all-Black schools closed, their staff was left with no place of employment. Tens of thousands of highly qualified Black educators and staff were fired, demoted, or forced to resign to make room for white teachers and principals. White superintendents led school integration and refused to put Black teachers in positions of power over their white counterparts.
At the time, white teachers with fewer credentials and less experience kept their jobs over Black teachers with PhDs. White parents didn’t want their children to be taught by Black educators. Experts say the lack of Black teachers today can be traced back to Brown v. Board of Education.
Leslie Fenwick, a Howard University professor, said in a statement, “We decimated the Black principal and teacher pipeline, and we’ve never rectified that." Fenwick added, “It is the unfinished promise of Brown that we have not integrated our faculty and school leadership.”
According to Fenwick, Black people made up 35 to 50 percent of all teachers in the segregated school system prior to the landmark ruling. Today, no state comes closes to those percentages — only 7 percent of public school teachers are Black.
Notably beginning after the Brown v. Board decision, states used standardized tests able to "deny Black educators the opportunity to teach." Professor of educational leadership Linda Tillman said new certification measures led to the mass displacement and firing of Black teachers.
The lack of transparency in the certification process continues to curb the number of Black educators today, Tillman noted.
Fenwick called the lack of Black leadership in schools "detrimental," and research shows Black children are suffering from this nationwide issue the most.
According to John Hopkins University, Black students are more likely to be placed in gifted education programs, graduate from high school, and enroll in college when they've had at least one Black teacher.
Vanderbilt education professor Rich Milner said in a statement, “I think in general, Black students benefit from working with teachers who deeply understand and are invested in their educational progress and success." Milner added, “With the decline of teachers post-Brown, we see that these students are often underserved and are not supported in ways that would be advantageous to their academic and social success.”
Though flawed, Brown v. Board of Education gave Black students equal protection under the law. The landmark case opened the door for equality across all sectors in the U.S.