On May 16, the eve of the 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision that outlawed racial segregation in America's public schools, Michelle Obama traveled to Topeka, Kansas, to visit the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site.
As the first lady toured the site with Stephanie Kyriazis, its chief of interpretation and education, she posed for a striking photograph that serves as a stark reminder of the segregation era. The image, taken by White House photographer Chuck Kennedy, was posted to the White House Flickr feed this week.
After her tour, Mrs. Obama delivered an equally poignant speech to the graduating classes of Topeka's high schools.
"I believe that all of you — our soon-to-be-graduates — you all are the living, breathing legacy of this case," Mrs. Obama said. "Not only are you beautiful and handsome and talented and smart, but you represent all colors and cultures and faiths here tonight. You come from all walks of life, and you’ve taken so many different paths to reach this moment. Maybe your ancestors have been here in Kansas for centuries. Or maybe, like mine, they came to this country in chains."
"That’s why we’re celebrating here tonight," she continued, "because the fact is that your experience here in Topeka would have been unimaginable back in 1954, when Brown v. Board of Education first went to the Supreme Court. This would not be possible."
The first lady lamented school segregation that still exists in other cities.
"Many districts in this country have actually pulled back on efforts to integrate their schools, and many communities have become less diverse as folks have moved from cities to suburbs," she said. "Our laws may no longer separate us based on our skin color, but nothing in the Constitution says we have to eat together in the lunchroom or live together in the same neighborhoods. There’s no court case against believing in stereotypes or thinking that certain kinds of hateful jokes or comments are funny."
Mrs. Obama encouraged the graduates to confront and challenge racial prejudices.
"Never be afraid to talk about these issues, particularly the issue of race," she said. "Because even today, we still struggle to do that. Because this issue is so sensitive, is so complicated, so bound up with a painful history. And we need your generation to help us break through."