Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, left, greets...

Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, left, greets President Joe Biden at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, Friday, May 17, 2024. Credit: AP/Susan Walsh

WASHINGTON — The landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling that desegregated schools was about more than just race in education, President Joe Biden said Friday as he commemorated the 70th anniversary of the decision. It was about the promise of America, he said — that it is “big enough for everyone to succeed.”

“The work of building a democracy ... worthy of our dreams starts with opening the doors of opportunity for everyone, without exception,” Biden told Black leaders at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. “Education is linked to freedom.”

The Topeka, Kansas, case, Brown v. Board of Education, determined that separating children in schools by race was unconstitutional. While progress has been made, much more needs to be done, Biden said. And he contended that Donald Trump and his allies are seeking to roll back that progress.

Biden's speech was part of a stepped-up effort to highlight his administration's commitment to racial equity and to Black voters more generally in the midst of the 2024 election campaign. Later Friday, he was to host leaders of the “Divine Nine” historically Black sororities and fraternities.

He met with plaintiffs from the Brown court case in the Oval Office on Thursday and courted voters in Atlanta and Milwaukee this week with a pair of Black radio interviews. On Sunday, he'll give the commencement speech at Morehouse College in Atlanta, one of the historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs.

The president, facing sagging poll numbers, is seeking to shore up his support within a critical bloc that helped deliver his 2020 victory. Fifty-five percent of Black adults approved of the way he was handling his job as president, according to an AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll in March, a figure well below those from earlier in his presidency.

Biden told the museum crowd to cheers that his administration has invested $16 billion in HBCUs, that he's forgiven $160 billion in student loan debt, and that the Department of Education has spent $50 million on teacher diversity. He said he knew there was more to do, but that Trump and his allies wanted to gut his administration's progress and go further by “taking away other fundamental freedoms, from the freedom to vote and the freedom to choose.”

President Joe Biden speaks at the National Museum of African...

President Joe Biden speaks at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, Friday, May 17, 2024. Credit: AP/Susan Walsh

“It’s a really important thing to continue," Biden said. "We have a whole group of people out of there trying to rewrite history, trying to erase history.”

In the decades since the Brown decision, American schools have been re-segregating. The country is more diverse than it ever has been. Still, around 4 out of 10 Black and Hispanic students attend schools where almost every one of their classmates is another student of color.

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