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Last Updated: Monday, 17 May, 2004, 19:56 GMT 20:56 UK
Bush hails schools desegregation
Linda Brown in 1964
Linda Brown, pictured in 1964, says she had no idea she was making history
President George W Bush has hailed the 50th anniversary of a landmark decision that ended segregation in American schools, calling it "a day of justice".

The president spoke at a ceremony in Kansas to mark the Supreme Court's 1954 ruling that black and white children should be educated together.

He said that while it did not end segregation completely, all sides knew a line had been crossed in US history.

Mr Bush said anti-discrimination laws had to be vigorously enforced.

The president was attending a ceremony at Monroe Elementary, a formerly all-black school in Topeka, Kansas.

"Fifty years ago today, nine judges announced that they had looked at the Constitution and saw no justification for the segregation and humiliation of an entire race," he said.

"Here on the corner of 15th and Monroe, and in schools like it across America, that was a day of justice, and it was a long time coming."

'One America'

At another event, the Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, warned there was still a long way to go in US race relations.

"Today, more than ever, we need to renew our commitment to one America," he said.

In the days of segregation, white pupils in Topeka went to Monroe School, while their black counterparts in the same area were bussed across town to Monroe Elementary.

But that changed after the Reverend Oliver Brown began fighting for the right of his nine-year-old daughter Linda to go to the all-white school.

The late Mr Brown led 13 black families in their legal challenge, which began at Topeka federal district court in 1951.

In its landmark decision, the US Supreme Court ruled that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal", thereby forcing the desegregation of public schools in 21 states.

'Separate but equal'

Topeka's elementary schools had been segregated since 1896, when the Supreme Court sanctioned "separate but equal" classrooms for black children.

Despite pressure from white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan, Rev Brown and the other families decided to file a suit and doggedly pursue their right to equality.

They were backed by prominent rights group the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).

And when the Topeka case failed in the district court, the NAACP amalgamated it with other similar cases and appealed to the Supreme Court.

There, counsellor Thurgood Marshall was able to argue that segregation was unconstitutional, denying African-Americans the right to equal protection set out in the 14th Amendment.

New museum

Linda Brown, now Linda Brown Thompson, says that she had no idea she was making history at the time.

Over the years she has largely avoided the press interest her story has provoked, keen to stress that her family was just one of many involved in the struggle for racial equality.

Hers is a point of view echoed by the LaTonya Miller, spokeswoman and education director for a new museum and education centre at Monroe School that commemorates the struggle against segregation.

"This story is not just about Linda Brown," she said. "For too long, the myth has been perpetuated that it's been about her."

Visitors to the museum, which cost $11.3m, can walk through the Tunnel of Courage in which they are surrounded by period footage of shouting crowds and fierce, barking guard dogs - precisely the kind of terrifying scenes experienced by black youngsters who pioneered racial integration.

The story of the other schools in Virginia, South Carolina and Delaware who were also involved in the Brown legal case are also told, along with information about the civil rights movement before and after the case.

However, it seems that the battle for equality is still not yet won.

On Saturday, about two dozen members of white supremacist and white power groups rallied near the site.

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