Grand Opening Dedication Ceremony
May 17, 2004
Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site
Remarks by Kathleen Sebelius
Governor of Kansas
Imagine. You're rushed into the emergency room. Your chest is tight. Your breathing ... labored. Your pulse is faint. A cardiologist appears at your side. Immediate surgery is your only hope. The surgeon's hand reaches toward the instrument tray… At that moment, does it matter…whether the hand that holds the scalpel is black, white, or brown?
Or, think about…the more routine. A letter-carrier reliably delivers your mail. A lawyer diligently drafts your personal papers. A stockbroker ably manages your retirement account. A teacher lovingly mentors your child.
White? Black? Or brown? Does it matter? Of course…it does not. What matters is the quality of the individual. What matters is their experience…and expertise. And, what matters - is the education each has received. This was the vision of Brown v. Board of Education - opportunity for all, regardless of the color of your skin. Opportunity for all. Through education for all. Equally.
Consider this for a moment...
"Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today, it is the principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values. In preparing him for later professional training. And in helping him to normally adjust to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education."
"In…these…days." Sounds pretty contemporary - doesn't it? Well…these are not my words. And they were not first proclaimed on this day. They are the words of Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, writing the majority opinion in Brown v. Board of Education fifty years ago - May 17th, 1954. But they ring as true today as they did on that day. Because for all of the remarkable advances we've achieved as a result of Brown v. Board - there is so much that remains to be done.
Because while that historic decision - striking down segregation and upholding equality - has done so much to close the gaps in our society…in many ways, the gap is still too wide. Even here…in the very community whose name symbolizes the quest for equality ... the gap is still too wide.
Right now, tens of thousands of at-risk students are struggling to succeed in Kansas public schools. In part, because we do not yet provide all of our students with an equal opportunity for a quality education.
So, in this 50th anniversary year of Brown v. Board of Education, it is our obligation to fulfill the promise of equal opportunity for all through a quality education for all. Regardless of race. Or income. Or geography. It is fitting that we renew our commitment to that obligation today…in this place…where a handful of ordinary parents took extraordinary action so that their children could truly share in the promise of America.
In this place ... where 100 years before Brown ... men and women of principle fought to end the scourge of slavery .. fought to make this state a symbol of freedom and equality. And on this patch of land .. where Topeka abolitionist John Ritchie invited freed slaves to build houses and take up their lives.
The voices of those who fought for freedom in the darkest days of our Republic ... and the voices of those who fought to end segregation nearly a century later ... echo in today's debate over the adequacy and equity of education funding.
Here ... in this place ... we can hear those voices. And we must heed their call. Our work isn't done. Not until every child in Kansas - and, indeed, across America - has equal access to the transforming power of education ... and therefore equal access to the promise of America… A promise that says to all who dare to dream ... that they too can perform miracles with a scalpel in an operating room. They too can serve clients with skill in a courtroom. And they too can serve their country, state and community in the hundreds of ways that ordinary people do each and every day.
The dream that inspired Oliver Brown in 1954 has been only partially realized ... but it is still alive ... and it is that enduring dream of equality ... as much as anything…that we celebrate today.