California Civil Rights Hero Opened State's Public Schools to Native Americans
If Californians ever doubt the power of one person to change
history, they need only reflect on the life of Alice Piper, whose courageous
insistence on her right to attend public schools led to a state Supreme Court decision
that for the first time allowed Native Americans like Alice to attend local
public schools instead of “separate but hardly equal” Indian schools.
Today marks the 90th anniversary of that state
court ruling that opened the doors. The day was celebrated in Big Lake, California with the
dedication of a memorial and statue in her honor.
A 15-year-old Native American, Piper – like Rosa Parks,
Martin Luther King, Caesar Chavez, and Dolores Huerta – refused to take “no”
for an answer. Her efforts led to the California Supreme Court overturning
state law that barred Native Americans from attending public schools if an
“Indian school” was in the vicinity. The court ruled the state laws violated
Article 14 of the U.S. Constitution.
(Photo at left) This is the only known photo of 15-year-old
The ruling in Piper v. Big Pine USD came 30 years
before the landmark Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court
ruling that specifically outlawed “separate but equal” public schools.
Piper’s legacy was honored today in Big Lake, California.
With the help of CTA and spurred by the district superintendent, residents are
engaged in raising funds to build a memorial to her.
Both 2013 and 2014 are marking momentous events in the
history of the civil rights movement, including the 50th anniversary
of the 1964 March on Washington led by Rev. Martin Luther King, who delivered
at the U.S. Capitol his powerful and moving “I Have a Dream” speech. CTA
representatives took part in national and local events to recall and honor that
historic effort that led to the passage of the crucial federal Civil Rights Act.
For more information about Piper and the memorial efforts,
go to The Alice Piper
Memorial Facebook Page and the
Alice Piper Statute Honoring Education for All on Kickstarter.
The statue and memorial to Alice Potter, whose courage fully opened
the state’s public schools to Native Americans, was formally dedicated on June
2, the 90th anniversary of her the victory in the California Supreme Court.