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Preview: History Speaks through Cheryl Brown Henderson

At 7 p.m. on Feb. 7, Cheryl Brown Henderson will speak at Oklahoma Christian University’s annual History Speaks event in Baugh Auditorium. 

Henderson’s father, Reverend Oliver Brown, was the named plaintiff in Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court case where chief attorney, Thurgood Marshall, argued to desegregate public schools.

Over the past nine years, History Speaks has hosted Civil Rights figures like members of the Little Rock Nine and Andrew Young. Director and founder of History Speaks, Gary Jones, said while Henderson’s story may be less known, people using that as an excuse for not attending are missing out.

“They’re missing a treat,” Jones said. “I think maybe one of my favorite, most powerful History Speaks events we’ve had was with lesser known figures. (For instance,) Emmet Till’s cousin, Wheeler Parker, told maybe one of the most brutal stories and one of the most powerful stories regarding the Civil Rights movement.”

A large reason for  the impact of Brown v. Board of Education is due to Marshall’s strategy in court.

“Thurgood Marshall and his team argued not that blacks should be allowed in white schools, but they argued that if the rule is ‘separate but equal,’ then make the separate equal,” Jones said. “Even more so than just integrating schools, the Supreme Court ruled that separate but equal can never be equal. That was huge. That was the beginning of chipping away a lot of segregation in our country.”

The Brown v. Board of Education verdict preceded the Little Rock Nine and Rosa Parks, the latter of the two  sparking the Montgomery bus boycott. Other boycotts and demonstrations followed, all leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Even though 68 years have passed since the Brown v. Board of Education verdict, and 58 years since the Civil Rights Act, Jones said the civil rights discussed during events such as History Speaks is still relevant today.

“For people who aren’t people of color, I think it’s really important that you learn these stories and you understand how we got where we are,” Jones said. “History tells us that if we don’t learn from it, we repeat history.”

In 1926, Carter G. Woodson began what is recognized today as Black History Month. Today, Oklahoma legislators are attempting to pass House Bill 1775, which would prevent schools from teaching race-related topics.

Jones said History Speaks may mean more to people of color because of this possibility.

“For people like me, this (History Speaks) doubly resounds with me more because I didn’t grow up in school reading about the heroes and the icons of our country looking like me or coming from where I come from,” Jones said. “This (History Speaks) is really, really important because it reminds us that everybody here has played a role in this country’s history.”

Oklahoma Christian sophomore Nikkita Addy said she looks forward to History Speaks.

“This is going to be my first live and in-person History Speaks because my first year here was COVID-19, so it was virtual,” Addy said. “I’m excited to actually see it in person. Our campus, if you didn’t know, is predominantly white, so it’s exciting to see more representation in the form of history on campus.”

Henderson is the daughter of Oliver Brown and founding president of the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research. Henderson has pursued extensive education, received various awards for her work in education, has given numerous presentations, has worked with Congress, and has been invited to the White House multiple times.

Henderson’s presentation will be followed by a Q&A and a meet-and-greet. Tickets are sold on a first-come first-serve basis.

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