On May 14, 2014, Harvard Law School Professor Tomiko Brown-Nagin, along with Bruce Ackerman of Yale Law School and Steven Calabresi of Northwestern Law School participated in a discussion at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia titled “The Civil Rights Movement: Redefining the Meaning of Equality.”
The event related to Ackerman’s recent book “We the People, Volume 3: The Civil Rights Revolution.“ They focused on the landmark statutes of the 1960s: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 as part of a revolution in constitutional law. And two days before the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the three constitutional law experts also discussed the legacy of the seminal school desegregation case.
Brown-Nagin, a legal historian with a focus on education law and policy, said when considering the decision’s legacy, it matters which Brown you’re focusing on.
“Brown changed over time,” she said. “There’s the Brown of 1954, where Justice Warren clearly said it was unclear what the Framers [of the Fourteenth Amendment] thought. … There’s the Brown of the mid-1960s, where the Court starts to imbue Brown with a more expansive meaning. … The Brown of the 1970s is more complicated still—it’s a Brown that requires busing of students beyond neighborhood schools.”
“Brown is an opinion that, like many Supreme Court opinions, has no single, unitary meaning,” she said. “It means many things … and I personally think that’s a fine thing.”
Read more on the event.
Brown-Nagin is the Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law at HLS and co-director of the Program in Law and History. Her book “Courage to Dissent: Atlanta and the Long History of the Civil Rights Movement” (Oxford, 2011) won the Bancroft Prize in U.S. History, the highest honor awarded annually to a work in the field of history.