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Topeka was at the center of Brown v. Board. Decades later, segregation of another sort lingers

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The lesson on diversity started slowly in a first-grade classroom in Topeka, where schools were at the center of the case that struck down segregated education.

“I like broccoli. Do you like broccoli?” Marie Carter, a Black school library worker, asked broccoli-hating librarian Amy Gugelman, who is white.

The students in the sunny, book-filled room were comparing what makes them the same and what makes them different. It’s part of their introduction to Brown v. Board of Education, a ruling commemorated at a national historic site in a former all-Black school just down the street. Linda Brown, whose father Oliver Brown was the lead plaintiff in the case, was a student there after she was denied entry to an all-white school near her home.

Within a few questions, the first-graders at Williams Science & Fine Arts Magnet school watched the two women hold their arms next to each other. “My skin is brown,” Carter observed, “and Mrs. Gugelman’s skin is not.”

And then Gugelman reached the heart of the lesson. “Can we still be friends?”

The students, themselves a range of ethnicities, screamed out “yes!” oblivious to the messiness of the question, to the history of this place, to the struggles with race and equity that continue even now.

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