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Brown Sisters to Speak on Fateful Court Case at M.L.K. Day Commemoration

5 January 2010 No Comment

January 5, 2010
For Immediate Release

For more information: Julie Nichols (801) 863-6795, William Cobb (801) 863-8846
University Marketing & Communications: Erin Spurgeon, (801) 863-6807
Written by: Alex Strickland (801) 863-6351

Cheryl and Linda Brown, whose family name is forever connected to one of the watershed moments in American history, will headline the 16th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Commemoration at Utah Valley University with a presentation about the legacy of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Brown v. Board of Education.

The two-day celebration of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy on Jan. 14-15 carries on the school’s yearly tradition of honoring King’s work and examining the current state of civil rights. This year’s commemoration will focus on “Realizing the Dream,” what needs to happen to continue King’s work.

“One of the points we want to make with this year’s event is that Dr. King’s dream has not yet been fully realized in Utah or anywhere else,” said Julie Nichols, one of the event organizers and an English professor at UVU.

The packed schedule of events includes a number of student and faculty presentations, panels, film screenings and live performances, but the keynote speech on Thursday morning should provide one of the most memorable moments. The Brown sisters, whose father, Oliver L. Brown – along with 12 other families – was a plaintiff in defining court decision of the civil rights era, will deliver a presentation titled “Brown v. Board of Education: Voices of the Legacy.” A documentary film and panel discussion will precede Brown’s presentation on Wednesday afternoon in the library.

That 1954 Supreme Court decision cemented the idea that “separate but equal” schools for black and white children were “inherently unequal.” The decision led to a number of high-profile clashes across the South as schools were forced to integrate, including the famous University of Alabama standoff in which Gov. George Wallace was removed by his state’s National Guard after personally barring the door to a pair of black students.

The UVU commemoration will also feature insights into civil rights stories that are less well known than those that surrounded King’s time and place. A pair of films about racism in Utah will be shown on Friday afternoon in the library theater followed by a panel discussion. “The Wisdom of Our Years: Stories of African American Utahns” and “Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Back Mormons” both chronicle racism in the Beehive State and its effects on minority citizens.

“Utah might not be the most diverse state for a number of reasons, but we are not unaware of these struggles and we know that human rights matter,” Nichols said. “And we have a legacy of humanitarian service and awareness of needs of humans to care for each other, even if it doesn’t always show up racially.”

To examine many different aspects of the civil rights struggle, students and faculty will hold a series of presentations and discussions on Thursday afternoon and all day Friday during the commemoration. The presentations range from examining the role of racism in the development of dance to equality in the workplace. All presentations will take place in the Sorensen Student Center.

One of the commemoration’s highlights will be largely for students. Though his main public appearance will be limited to a one-man stage show on Saturday night, Broadway entertainer Charles Holt will meet with students throughout the week to mentor them not only in the performing arts, but about finding their passion in life and pursuing it with an emphasis on helping others.

“He’s very motivational. He’s a musician and theater performer and his goal is to reach students in the arts and also across the board and tell them you can do what you want to do. And once you find that, give back,” Nichols said of Holt, who was also part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Commemoration at UVU in 2007. “He’s a very warm, generous person and the students who work with him are always delighted.”

Holt’s 7:30 p.m. performance of “Sole Music: A Journey Through an African American Quilt,” as well as all of the commemoration’s other events, are free and open to the public.

For a full schedule of events, visit http://www.uvu.edu/hass/mlk/.

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16th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Fact Sheet

• Utah Valley University’s first Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration was in 1994, though up until 2000 it was known as a Human Rights Day Commemoration in conjunction with the holiday’s official name in the state of Utah.

• The commemoration was founded by former School of Humanities Dean Dr. William W. Cobb Jr. and the UVU Multicultural Center in an effort to initiate and broaden discussion about the role of civil rights and diversity on campus and in the community.

• Keynote speakers for the commemoration have included Martin Luther King Jr. biographers, colleagues in the civil rights movement and even family members. Perhaps one of the most noteworthy was in 2004 when the late Yolanda King, the eldest daughter of Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King, gave a stirring presentation to the UVU community. “I am a child of the dream,” she said. “We need to celebrate our differences until those differences don’t make a difference.”

• Observation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into law in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan.

• 2010 keynote speakers Cheryl and Linda Brown were just children when their father joined 12 other families and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit. But the pair have remained involved in the civil rights legacy that bears their name, founding the Brown Family Foundation and playing an instrumental role in the creation of a national historic site to commemorate the case in Topeka.

• There were five cases before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of public school segregation. They were all lumped under one heading, and because the cases were listed on the docket in alphabetical order, the Brown family name became inexorably linked to the decision.

• Oliver Brown was not the only Brown named in the suit against the Kansas schools. Topeka resident Darlene Brown was another plaintiff who should have been listed before Oliver Brown. Historians suspect Oliver was “erroneously” listed first because he was a man.

• UVU History Professor David Wilson is the son of Paul E. Wilson, who argued on behalf of the Topeka Board of Education. The elder Wilson was the recently appointed assistant attorney general for the state of Kansas. Brown v. Board of Education was his first appellate case, and the only time he argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

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