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Brown Foundation, Hall Center host series of essay workshops for plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education

Thursday, May 04, 2017

LAWRENCE— Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision declaring the state-helmed segregation of public schools unconstitutional, placed the city of Topeka and the family of Oliver Brown at the epicenter of civil rights history. Yet the full legal citation is Oliver L. Brown, et. al. vs. the Board of Education of Topeka.

Now, Cheryl Brown Henderson and the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research, in conjunction with the Hall Center for the Humanities, seek to explore the stories of the “et. al.” by conducting a series of essay writers’ workshops for plaintiffs, based in Washington, D.C., and in Topeka.

The project will capture the first-person narratives of individuals who were plaintiffs or whose families were represented in the five cases consolidated by the Supreme Court in an opinion announced May 17, 1954. The first session of the workshop was March 18 at new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

There, KU experts in African-American history and literature, including Deborah Dandridge, Spencer Research Library; J. Edgar Tidwell, professor of English, and Darren Canady, associate professor of English, worked with plaintiffs on narrative and expressive writing. The workshop was a resounding success.

“This project has been a dream for the past three years,” said Brown Henderson. “Traveling the country to speak about Brown v. Board led me to realize how history easily becomes fiction absent the voices of those who lived it. I am grateful to the Hall Center and the National Museum of African American History and Culture for sharing my belief in the importance of hearing from the voices of this legacy.”

The partnership with the Hall Center was a natural fit. The interdisciplinarity of Brown Henderson’s project, along with the public-facing nature of the workshop, together bring humanities scholarship to the wider community, while also enriching scholarly knowledge of the particulars of Brown v. Board.

The Hall Center exists in part to support humanities projects that affect audiences beyond campus. This undertaking, to empower those who experienced the momentous Brown v. Board of Education litigation and decision, has the potential to positively affect the lives of the plaintiffs, to record heretofore silenced stories, and to provide to the public exciting new information about the history of our country. The Hall Center is excited to be partnering with a foundation just down the road to make this project of national significance a reality.

The March 18 workshop was the first of three. A workshop in Topeka will take place this summer, and another group will convene again at the National Museum of African American History and Culture on June 3.

After essays are collected, editing and photo selection will take place, and an advisory committee will help in the selection of essays and appropriate publication format. Then, the resulting publication, tentatively titled An Enduring Legacy, will be released to the general public, giving voices to those previously silenced by history.

For more information, please contact Cheryl Brown Henderson at cbrownhenderson@brownfoundationks.org