Honoring and Remembering Brown v. Board of Education -- Local Educator Writes Play and Collaborates
Honoring and Remembering Brown v. Board of Education -- Local Educator Writes Play and Collaborates with Granddaughter of Earl Warren
by Mary Ann Scheuer
Sixty-five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, declaring that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. Dr. Cindy Acker, a local educator and social justice activist, has written a play honoring and remembering this momentous occasion, using the exact words from the Brown courtroom and the words of Chief Justice Earl Warren. Words That Made the Difference will be performed on June 23 as part of Unity in Marin’s Juneteenth Celebration.
Dr. Acker is the founder and head of Child Unique Montessori Preschool and the Montessori Elementary Intermediate School of Alameda. “Social justice is a passion of mine,” Acker says. When she realized that this year marks the 65th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, she started to wonder about the courage and strength of those involved: the plaintiffs, the attorneys for the NAACP, and the Supreme Court justices. “I knew that it was a unanimous court case decision. I wanted to know the why behind it.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racially segregated schools violate the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. In writing her play, Acker wanted to capture this moment for the audience and ask what it took to win this battle. “This was such a record of courage, justice and forthrightness. We so need these qualities right now. It moved me to analyze the information and try to show it from many different sides.”
In the play, Acker holds true to the integrity of the court case, using the attorneys’ words as they argued the case. “Those words made a difference and brought about a unanimous decision.” She juxtaposes the attorneys’ arguments with reflections from Earl Warren and Thurgood Marshall as these historical characters directly address the audience, providing context.
As Acker began this project, Earl Warren’s granddaughter Debra Warren reached out to her to offer her help and support. Acker reflects that Warren “was such a humble man. I was looking for greatness, and what I learned was that he operated from his ideologies, formed from the way he grew up and the way he saw the world.” Growing up in California gave Warren perspective on racial diverse communities and progressive politics. During Warren’s first year on the Supreme Court, he led the Court to declare a unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
As for what she hopes the audience will take away from watching this performance, Acker says, “In the midst of this world as we have it now, it is possible for someone to be just and to be fair. I am also hoping that viewers will be able to understand what it feels like to be considered as something different — to hear the words of people who are racist and to hear the words of justice, and to align themselves with courage.”
As she was writing the play, Acker realized that her own parents grew up in Kansas during the same time period as Linda Brown, going to segregated schools. While they never talked about this experience, Acker reflects that “they were adamant that I go to a good school” and get a good education. “I never got their push toward education, but it all came together when I started reflecting on this momentous court case.”
Hopefully, Words that Made the Difference will continue reaching broader audiences. The First Congregational Church of Alameda has also asked Acker to perform the play for their community.
Mary Ann Scheuer is a teacher librarian at Albany High School. Find more books Mary Ann recommends sharing with children at her blog, Great Kid Books, http://greatkidbooks.blogspot.com.
“Brown v. Board of Education: A Fight for Simple Justice,” by Susan Goldman Rubin (ages 12 and up)
“The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial,” by Susan E. Goodman, illustrated by E. B. Lewis (ages 6-9).
“The Girl from the Tar Paper School : Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement,” by Teri Kanefield (ages 10-14).
“Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation,” by Duncan Tonatiuh (ages 6-9).