Photos courtesy of Meghan Buchanan, Lauren Wiesburg and Ericka Bullock

When Gloria Ladson-Billings rose to give the 2024 American Educational Research Association Distinguished Lecture in Philadelphia on April 12th, the room was electric. The crowd filled all of the seats in the Pennsylvania Convention Center’s Michael A. Nutter Theater. Those who arrived any fewer than 20 minutes early, lined the walls and sat on the floor in the aisles, dancing dangerously close to violating the fire code, while over 100 people stood outside of the door to listen to the lecture. 

Ladson-Billings’ lecture, titled “’Not Yet at Plessy’: 70 Years Post-Brown,” commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision from the Supreme Court that mandated desegregation in public schools. She referenced the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision that state-level segregation laws were constitutional as long as each race had facilities and resources that were equal in quality. This decision is widely known as the “separate but equal” doctrine and was never actualized. 

Despite good intentions related to Brown, Ladson-Billings argued that today’s hyper-segregated schools and widespread complacency with abysmal levels of Black student achievement should cause us to question Brown’s effectiveness. If the nation was unwilling to support equal resources for Black children in separation for more than half a century, why would we expect that desegregation would engender a new commitment?  

Ladson-Billings charged the audience of education researchers from around the world to demonstrate their commitment to the education of Black children—and thereby all children—by focusing on two crucial issues: What we are fighting and How we fight. 

Regarding what we are fighting, Ladson-Billings highlighted several of the lies and mis-readings that are prevalent in arguments about the nature of Black experience in the United States, if and how that experience should show up in curriculum, and if and how institutions should respond in the interest of equity. She affirmed that the suffering that Black people have experienced due to chattel slavery is meaningful and enduring with no benefits and that our intellect and capabilities are always questioned. She also offered that part of the fight is that terms like “affirmative action,” “DEI,” and “critical race theory” are being defined by people who despise Black people and other people of color.  

Ladson-Billings closed the lecture by urging the audience to fight comprehensively. We each have a role we can play at the ballot box, in the statehouse, in the courts, in our professions, and in our communities. The fight for racial equality requires our energy and commitment on all fronts. 

After a brief Q&A, the lecture ended with a whole-room selfie with Dr. Tyrone Howard, American Educational Research Association President.