Bending Toward Justice

By Sally Banks Zakariya

One day in May 1954 things changed, and did not change. For millions of black Americans, news of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education meant—at last—that they and their children no longer had to attend separate, and almost universally unequal, schools. It was, as journalist Juan Williams says in his article in this issue, the ruling that changed America.

For many whites, of course, the ruling was a gauntlet thrown down before them, a challenge to be met with inflamed rhetoric, raised fists, and massive resistance.

But for some of us—especially young whites—little seemed different. As a child in a Virginia school named for a Confederate general, I didn’t get it. I’d been only passingly curious about the “colored” and “white” water fountains and restrooms in the local department store. And I’d accepted my mother’s embarrassed explanation with little more than a nod. It was only a few years later, when I was dressed down by the high school principal for daring—daring!—to publish an essay on racial equality in the school literary magazine, that I thought I saw.

I thought I saw the ingrained sense of entitlement that fed white racism, the swift outrage many whites felt against any change in the social order, the essential unfairness and cruel hurtfulness of the status quo.

Things were, slowly, changing.

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