Oliver Brown was an assistant pastor in a Methodist church in Topeka, KS. He also worked for the Santa Fe Railway. Within four blocks of where Brown lived with his wife and three children was Sumner Elementary School. Brown’s children couldn’t attend Sumner because it was for only white children. Rather, Brown’s children had to walk through a railroad yard and across a busy intersection to catch their bus to travel two miles to the all black Monroe Elementary School.
Linda Brown, who was seven in 1950, recalled the day her father took her by the hand and walked the four blocks to Sumner Elementary School. Linda remembers hearing her father ask the principal why his daughter couldn’t attend this school because of the color of their skin. All Linda wanted to do was go to school with the other children in her neighborhood. She remembered hearing the voices of her father and the principal getting louder. Soon after, Mr. Brown walked out, took Linda’s hand and walked her back home.
“My father pondered, ‘Why?’ Why should we have to tell our children that they cannot go to the school in their neighborhood because their skin is black?’ (Washington Post). Little did Oliver Brown or his daughter know that what transpired from that day would lead to what many say is the most historic Supreme Court decision in American history.
In February 1951, NAACP attorney Charles Scott filed a lawsuit against the Topeka School District in federal court. By July, a federal court panel heard testimony from Oliver Brown and 12 other plaintiffs who argued that when it came to public schools, separate was not equal. The court’s decision supported segregation in the Topeka Board of Education (Washington Post).
In 1952, the case, Oliver L. Brown et. al v. Board of Education of Topeka, was appealed to the Supreme Court, which consolidated the Brown case with five other desegregation cases from Delaware, Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington, D.C., into a single case. Thurgood Marshall led the legal team arguing that black children were denied access to all-white schools, challenging the “separate but equal” legal doctrine that had stood since 1896 with the Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson (Washington Post).
On May 17, 1954 Chief Justice Earl Warren rendered the unanimous decision of the court that all black schools were inherently unequal and school segregation violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
Linda Brown remembers coming home from school that day to find her father in tears. “My father believed strongly God would move people to do the right thing” (Washington Post).
Linda Brown Thompson worked as a Head Start teacher after college. She also spent her life telling audiences the story of her father, and what he did for his children, and for all black children in America. Oliver Brown died at the age of 42 in 1961.
On the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Linda Brown spoke of the decision, and the impact it had on her family and this country.
“Looking back on Brown v. Board of Education, it has made an impact in all facets of life for minorities throughout the land. I really think of it in terms of what it has done for our young people, in taking away that feeling of second class citizenship. I think it has made the dreams, hopes, and aspirations of our young people greater today” (Eyes on the Prize).
Linda Brown Thompson died March 25 at the age of 76.
In hearing of Brown’s death, Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer made a statement. “Sixty-four years ago a young girl from Topeka brought a case that ended segregation in public schools in America. Linda Brown’s life reminds us that sometimes the most unlikely people can have an incredible impact and that by serving our community we can truly change the world” (Biography.com).
These are my reflections for today.
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