U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton LAW ’73 addressed a capacity crowd in the Law School’s Levinson Auditorium Saturday afternoon, discussing civil rights and educational equality in the wake of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court Decision.
Clinton’s speech was the closing address of a three-day conference at the Law School on the topic of “The Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education: Reflections on the Last Fifty Years.”
In her speech, Clinton questioned the extent to which the equal educational opportunities the Brown decision promised had been implemented.
“Fifty years after Brown declared education open to all on equal terms, it’s time to reconsider whether that promise has been fulfilled,” Clinton said.
Claiming that the Brown decision had been “eroded” in the decades following the landmark ruling, Clinton said the Supreme Court had effectively abandoned integration by the 1980s.
“By the late 1980s, integration and equality had given way to a third concept: educational adequacy,” she said. “[And] even adequacy has not fully permeated our implementation of educational policy.”
Clinton’s speech offered pointed criticism of the “No Child Left Behind” Act introduced by the administration of President George W. Bush ’68. The act could have been effective if more money had been invested in the act, Clinton said.
“If one is honest about the needs of the most impoverished children in America, they are the ones who most need the highly qualified teachers, who most require the small classes,” she said. “Progress has a price, and we’re kidding ourselves and our children if we believe equality can be bought on the cheap. But it’s worth the investment.”
While many schools serving impoverished minority communities need greatly increased funding, Clinton said, many schools she had visited with diverse student bodies passed her “Chelsea test” — she would have been willing to send her daughter to school there.
Clinton said she thinks more needs to be done in America before the Brown decision’s potential is fully realized.
“We have miles to go, and elections to hold, before ‘separate but equal’ gives way to integrated schools,” Clinton said. “Whether we get there or not, I think everybody would agree that the repudiation of ‘separate but equal’ in Brown did not mean an affirmation of ‘separate but unequal.’”
Law School Dean Anthony Kronman introduced Clinton in brief remarks that praised the commitment of Clinton and her husband, former U.S. President Bill Clinton LAW ’73, to civil rights.
“Their Presidency marked something quite new in the history of civil rights in this country,” Kronman said. “They were not just committed to the cause, but children of the cause.”
Kronman also said it would be “really wonderful” if Hillary Clinton could return to the White House as President herself to continue the civil rights’ legacy of the Clinton administration.
Audience member Peter Devine ’00 LAW ’04 said Clinton’s address was “great.”
“She’s a phenomenal speaker, and always has been,” Devine said. “I thought it was especially poignant when she discussed her personal experiences traveling and examining different schools.”
Clinton’s speech followed a number of events and panel discussions on various aspects of the Brown discussion featuring Law School professors, attorneys and U.S. judges, among other participants.