Trustee recalls segregation struggle before Brown decision

UM Trustee Thelma Gibson lived through the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education [Brown] that overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine established half a century earlier in Plessy v. Ferguson. Fifty years ago, she was not allowed to attend UM, nor was she allowed to train nurses at Jackson Memorial Hospital because of the color of her skin. Today she sits on the Board of Trustees of both UM and the hospital.

“I just hope you young people understand that all kinds of things have happened since all of this desegregation took place,” Gibson said. “There is so much more that has brought us up to this point.”

Gibson gave the “eyewitness view” of the times last Monday, when the UM School of Law Center for Ethics and Public Service [CEPS] arranged the program “Looking Back 50 Years at Brown v. Board of Education: A Window into American Society and Schools in 1954, ‘Separate but (NOT) Equal.'”

“We wanted to commemorate Brown and what a significant decision it was 50 years ago,” Laura Walker, organizer of the event, said.

According to Hilton Napoleon, another event organizer, the main purpose of the forum was to make people aware of the case and its impact on society.

“A lot of people didn’t even know what Brown was, let alone the effect it had on people,” Napoleon said.

The discussion forum brought together distinguished panelists who chronicled various aspects of the landmark decision.

Other panelists discussed the existence, albeit not as prevalent as before, of segregation today. More than one person said that the struggle for equality still continues.

“It’s a story that’s still going on,” D. Marvin Jones, professor at the School of Law, said. “A vision that has yet to be realized for the masses.”

CEPS plans to follow up on the issue with another forum in the fall.

For more information on CEPS and the forums, contact Laura Walker at 305-284-8654.

Megha Garg can be contacted at