Brown v. Board Mural Private Unveiling Comments
May 16, 2018
McKinley Burnett, President of the Topeka chapter of the NAACP, with the help of Lucinda Todd, NAACP Treasurer, personally recruited thirteen African American parents to attempt enrolling their children in Topeka’s all-white schools for the fall semester of 1950. All 20 children were denied enrollment.
One of those children was Linda Brown, the daughter of Oliver and Leola Brown.
In February 1951 the NAACP filed a lawsuit, which was later consolidated with lawsuits from three other states – Delaware, South Carolina, and Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
While the U.S. District Court in Topeka agreed that public school segregation was detrimental, they ultimately upheld the “separate but equal doctrine” established by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896.
Three years later, the United States Supreme Court reviewed the case, which was named Brown v. Board of Education. Thurgood Marshall was the lead attorney.
Sixty-four years ago today, May 17, 1954, the Court issued a unanimous decision delivered by Chief Justice Earl Warren: “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
McKinley Burnett was there that day, and in 2001, the Topeka school board renamed its administrative center in his honor.
The idea of placing a Brown v. Board mural in the Capitol first came to be in the 2008 session of the Kansas Legislature.
I first met with Charles Jean-Baptiste, President of the Kansas NAACP, to begin planning for the mural. And, in that session, Senate Bill 554 was introduced. I testified on the bill and recently found a copy of my testimony, where I wrote:
Brown v. Board of Education is not simply a story about children or education — it is a story about courage and hope. It initiated educational and social reform throughout the United States, paved the way for the modern Civil Rights movement, and laid the foundation for international policies regarding human rights.
The dream that inspired 13 Kansas parents more than 50 years ago is a testament to the triumph of the human spirit. Their story should be forever told in this building – our Kansas Capitol – with a mural commemorating the cause for which the fought and successfully accomplished.
The bill passed unanimously in the Senate but was not acted upon by the House.
In the next session, I sponsored Senate Bill 54 along with my Senate colleagues, Senators Oletha Faust-Goudeau and David Haley, to place a mural commemorating the Brown case.
The Senate passed the bill unanimously on March 12, 2009.
I want to recognize former House Speaker Melvin Neufeld who is here this evening. Melvin was chairman of the House committee that expanded Senate Bill 54 to establish the Capitol Preservation Committee, who was tasked with approving a contract to commission artwork for the Brown v. Board Mural.
I also want to recognize the first chairperson of the Preservation Committee, Rep. Valdenia Winn.
Senate Bill 54 passed, as amended, in 2010 and was signed into law on May 17, 2010 by then-Governor Mark Parkinson.
The Preservation Committee worked closely with the Kansas Commission of African American Affairs in selecting a mural that adequately portrayed the history surrounding the Brown v. Board case.
The committee received numerous applications for the mural. And, in 2016, they chose Michael Young’s proposed mural which will be unveiled to the public today.
Michael Young grew up in Lansing and now lives in Kansas City, Kansas. As he told the Kansas City Star he remembers first visiting the Capitol when he was a boy and was “in awe” of the murals.
Now, he has created a mural that will leave you in awe.
No public funds have gone toward this project. All funds have been raised privately, and I want to personally thank all of those listed in the program for their financial support of this project.