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Landmark desegregation ruling remembered

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CNN's Dan Lothian looks back at the pivotal Supreme Court ruling that forced the integration of U.S. public schools and laid the foundation for the civil rights movement.
• Explainer: A landmark ruling
• Timeline: School segregation
• Chart gallery: Race and schools
• CNN Presents: 50 years later
• CNN Presents: Educator guide

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Civil rights activists gathered in Washington on Saturday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision, but warned that America has not done nearly enough to fulfill the ruling's promise.

The Brown decision, handed down May 17, 1954, ended racial segregation in public schools. It struck down a previous court ruling that sanctioned school segregation so long as states provided schools with equal facilities.

"It's so fundamental it's set to change the world," the Rev. Jesse Jackson said at a symposium convened by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "America's base has been redefined by that decision ... So today, our model for a nonracist society, whether in South Africa or anywhere in the world, is driven by that decision."

But panelists pointed out that the United States still fails to guarantee equal access to high-quality education, with devastating consequences for many African-Americans.

"If Brown is about anything, it is about reminding us 50 years after the fact that that still is a goal, something we still have to work towards," said radio host Tavis Smiley, who moderated the symposium. "The agenda is unfinished with regard to what Brown intended to do."

Smiley also voiced concerns about President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" legislation, which requires children to undergo annual academic assessments and punishes schools whose students perform poorly. It also allows children in failing schools to transfer to better schools, resulting in overcrowding in some high-quality institutions.

"It's an unfunded mandate," he said. "Half the states don't have the money; others don't know what to do with the money. So it is, I think, a disaster."

Jackson accused Bush of maintaining a "closed-door policy" toward civil rights leaders. He said Bush has refused to discuss proposals for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a high-quality education for all children, and will not hear objections to his proposed school voucher program.

"You can't reconcile vouchers with 'No Child Left Behind,' because you leave too many behind," Jackson told CNN. "We cannot get around the need to value education. Prenatal care, Head Start and day care on the front side is a better investment than jail-care and welfare on the back side.

"It's not just a matter of having a multiracial education, but having a quality education for all children, where they're not judged on race-based or tax-based, but their intrinsic worth as children," he said.

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