Linda Brown Thompson

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.

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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).

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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” (

These are my reflections for today.


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DeVos: HBCUs “pioneers of school choice”

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were created in response to the Jim Crow laws in the South that mandated enforced segregation. These laws institutionalized educational disadvantages, resulting in shutting out black students from traditionally white schools. They were created in slave states after the Civil War.

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Last week I watched the video of Betsy DeVos giving a commencement speech at Bethune- Cookman University which is an HBCU. In the video, students stand and turn their backs to DeVos in peaceful protest. This controversy arose over statements DeVos made in February to a group of HBCU leaders. According to Douglas-Gabriel and Jan (2017) of the Washington Post, after a meeting with HBCU leaders, DeVos praised their schools for identifying “a system that wasn’t working” and taking it upon themselves to provide the solution.  DeVos said HBCUs “started from the fact that there were too many students in America who did not have equal access to education.”  She said HBCUs are “living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality” (Washington Post).

Tweets poked fun of her characterization of HBCUs as about school choice— “as if white/colored water fountains were about beverage options” and comparing the Montgomery bus boycott to “pioneering new scenic walking paths.” (Washington Post).  

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Selena Hill of Huewire said, “This display of public outrage should serve as a wake-up call to DeVos and the Trump administration: It’s going to take a lot more than photo ops and empty speeches to win over black students. Black institutions deserve protection, more federal funding, and better public schools that prepare students of color for college. Anything less is unacceptable” (Huewire).

Some say the protest was appalling, disrespectful-saying students should have their diplomas taken away, and should have used this as an opportunity for engagement and discussion with the Secretary.

I’ll play devil’s advocate. What if what DeVos was saying is that HBCUs were “pioneers of school choice” because black students weren’t afforded an education due to segregation so they found a solution to a problem and created colleges and universities with opportunities for learning. She might think they were pioneers, but at the same time she has  oversimplified racial segregation, the Fourteenth Amendment and discrimination.

Putting the past aside is one thing – understanding the past is another. Equating discrimination and segregation to pioneering choice fails to acknowledge the discrimination in the first place. Blacks were forced to create their own schools because the laws of this country did not protect them- in fact Jim Crow Laws supported discrimination and segregation.

I’m reminded of recent comments by HUD Secretary Ben Carson who said slavery was considered “hope for freedom”,  and slaves were “immigrants coming to a land of dreams and opportunity.” If I remember correctly, slaves were forced into a life of servitude-often abusive, always inhumane. They were not here by choice, nor did they have much opportunity. DeVos’ statement about choice and Carson’s statement about slavery ignore  reality. From their perspective, DeVos and Carson thought they were speaking the truth. It’s hard for me to interpret their words as anything other than ignorance. George Santayana said it best, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.”

My guess is the Secretary was not randomly selected to give the commencement address at Bethune- Cookman, nor was she shocked by the reaction from the students. I would bet money this was as contrived as Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery. This was a planned visit, a canned speech, and likely nothing more than a publicity stunt. I would also guess that DeVos had no idea what an HBCU was before taking office-but maybe was schooled just after she learned she was giving the address.

The #1 rule of public speaking is to know your audience.

These are my reflections for today.




Desegregation Begins

This is Part II in a series on Segregation.

Much of the South was slow to comply with the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision. On September 4, 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas nine African American students wanted to start their first day at Central High School. Standing in their way was Governor Orval Faubus who ordered the Arkansas National Guard to surround Central and block the students from entering the building, claiming he feared riots and bloodshed at the school and his directive was to protect the students.

With steadfast determination, the nine students, who became known as the Little Rock Nine, showed up for school every day but were turned away. It wasn’t until President Dwight D. Eisenhower intervened and convinced Faubus to dismiss the guards and allow the students entry into the school that Faubus removed the guards but replaced them with local police. The next day, riots broke out at Central when the nine students tried to gain entrance to the building. Little Rock Congressman Brooks Hays and Mayor Woodrow Mann sent a telegram to Washington asking for help.  Eisenhower wanted to avoid a bloody confrontation in Arkansas. Following receipt of the telegram, he initiated Executive Order 10730, whereby he placed the Arkansas National Guard under Federal control and sent 1,000 U.S. Army paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division to assist them in restoring order in Little Rock ( This was September 24th, nearly three weeks after school had begun, and three years after the Brown decision.

After one year of integration, Governor Faubus closed all four of Little Rock public high schools pending a vote from the citizens to decide whether or not to prevent African Americans from attending the school.  The United States Supreme Court declared Faubus’ action illegal and the public schools reopened August 1959. The nine students returned to Central where they were exposed to physical and emotional abuse. Only one of the original nine students graduated from Central High School (

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Most notable of the stories similar to Little Rock is the story of Ruby Bridges. On November 14, 1960 six-year-old Ruby, accompanied by her mother and armed federal marshals, entered William Frantz Public School (WFPS) in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The front of the school was barricaded, which kept protesters out but did nothing to protect Ruby and her mom from the shouts of hate and death threats.

I was one of just a few black children to pass the school board test, and I had been chosen to attend one of the white schools, William Frantz Public School. They said it was a better school and closer to my home than the one I had been attending. They said I had the right to go to the closest school in my district. They said going to William Frantz would help me, my brothers, my sister, and other black children in the future. We would receive a better education, which would give us better opportunities as adults. (Bridges, 1999, P. 12).

On the same day Bridges gained entrance at WFPS, and also surrounded by federal marshals, Leona Tate, Tessie Prevost and Gail Etienne fought for entrance into McDonogh 19. These girls became known as the McDonogh 3. They faced the same scrutiny as Bridges, with protestors outside.

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The Orleans Parish School board (OPSB) designated only two white schools for integration- Frantz and McDonogh 19. Located in the neglected ninth ward, these schools were in generally poor neighborhoods with lower class and white working class families in housing projects. “The ninth ward was always the last to get street lights, the last to get paved streets and the last to receive the myriad other city services which other sections were able to obtain more easily” ( Middleton, 2011, p. 51).

There was some speculation that WFPS was chosen as one of the integrated schools because it was thought that “black children would be better off in schools with lower test scores, so that ‘they would not feel inferior.’ Others have speculated that the working-class 9th Ward neighborhood had much less political sway than other parts of town and so was an easier choice for School Board members, who were less likely to have connections there. (Reckdahl, 2010).

The opposition to Bridges attending William Frantz went through Governor Jimmie Davis’ office who fully supported segregationists. Similar to Governor Faubus in Arkansas, Davis also said he would close all the public schools rather than see them integrated. Federal District Court Judge J. Skelly Wright struck down the anti-integration laws, allowing for integration to proceed.

In a last minute effort to stave off desegregation, Louisiana declared a school holiday for November 14, 1960.  Despite the governor’s threat “to jail him if he opened schools” and extreme pressure from constituents, school Board President Lloyd Rittiner refused to close the New Orleans Parish Schools (Rittiner as quoted in Reckdahl, 2010).  WFPS would opened its doors to Bridges and opened itself to the scrutiny of the world.

US Marshals, sent to ensure the implementation of the desegregation plan, planned to escort Bridges to WFPS.  US Marshals anticipated fewer protesters at WFPS than at McDonogh, but prepared for a response if the situation deteriorated.  The US Marshals, carrying sidearms in their suit jackets, arranged for a number of US deputies as well as local and state officers to be positioned in the neighborhood surrounding WFPS.  When they arrived at the school with Bridge on the 14th, they encountered a crowd of approximately 1000 people, much larger than anticipated.  Deputies Gilbert Bryant and Floyd Park “enveloped the girl and entered Frantz” (Turks, 2016, p. 41).

On the first day, Ruby sat in the office with her mom until 3:00 pm and went home. The second day she met her teacher, Mrs. Barbara Henry who taught Ruby for the rest of the year. The riots continued for some time in New Orleans, while Ruby showed up each day to school and Mrs. Henry taught her, ate lunch with her, and played in the classroom with her as Ruby was not allowed to leave the room to go to the lunchroom or the playground with the other children. Her bravery and determination to protect Ruby were admirable. “I didn’t want to allow hate to enter her life in any way to diminish her beautiful spirit” (Barbara Henry, as cited in Bridges, 1999, p. 52).

Though I did not know it then, nor would I come to realize it for many years, what transpired in the fall of 1960 in New Orleans would forever change my life and help shape a nation. When I think back on that time and all that has occurred since, I realize a lot has changed. I also know there is much more to be done. That fateful walk to school began a journey, and we all must work together to continue moving forward (Bridges, 2013).

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

These are my reflections for today.




Bridges, R. (1999, p. 12). Through My Eyes. New York: Scholastic Press.

Turk, D. (2016).  Forging the star: The official modern history of the US Marshals Service.    University of North Texas Press, Denton:  TX.

Segregation Then and Now

*This is the first in a series of blogs about segregation in public schools. A more apt title for this series might be The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The seeds of segregation were planted in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson of 1896 when the  Supreme Court upheld state racial segregation laws for public facilities under the credo of “separate but equal”.  This applied to public facilities, transportation, and schools, and remained uncontested until the 1950s when black families who were frustrated with the quality of the schools their children were attending decided to do something about it.

Black parents in New Orleans had grown increasingly unhappy with the poor educational support given to their children, who constituted nearly 60% of the city’s student population. Oliver Bush lived in New Orleans with his eight children. He was an insurance salesman with the all-black Louisiana Industrial Life Insurance Company and president of the Maccarty Parent Teacher Association. In 1952 Bush encouraged thirty five African American students and their parents to file a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Louisiana seeking desegregation of the New Orleans Public Schools. Mr. Bush agreed to allow his son Earl be the lead plaintiff (Middleton, 2011). This became known as Bush v. Orleans Parish School Board. Bush was supported by the Legal Defense and Educational Fund of the NAACP.  (Middleton, 2011).
“The lawsuit challenged segregation itself, claiming that Louisiana’s state statutes and constitutional provisions mandating school segregation violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.” (p. 329). Equal protection requires states to guarantee the same rights, privileges, and protections to all citizens.
The Bush case didn’t make it off the ground as it was withdrawn at the suggestion of Thurgood Marshall, who was serving as the lead counsel with the Legal Defense and Educational Fund.  Marshall  wanted to wait for the Supreme Court ruling on the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case.

In the Brown case,  plaintiffs argued separate was not, in fact, equal. Schools did not provide the same facilities, trained teachers, or curriculum. Marshall once said, “Equal means getting the same thing at the same time and in the same place” (as cited in Byrne, 2005, p. 211).

The Brown case was actually five cases grouped together to go before the Supreme Court, arguing that separate was not equal.  Oliver Brown of Topeka, Kansas was an African American man whose daughter Linda faced a long commute to school every day. Brown was a welder and World War II veteran who served as an assistant pastor at his local church. When the Supreme Court consolidated the cases in 1952, Brown’s name appeared in the title, some say because it came first alphabetically.

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On May 17, 1954 in the landmark Brown v. Board decision, the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled segregation of public schools was unconstitutional (source).

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“We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” (source).

Marshall predicted the end of segregation would come by the fall of 1955. He wasn’t even close.  Some districts in the South voted to close schools rather than desegregate. In other districts segregationist academies opened. These academies were private schools established for white families who wished to avoid having their children enrolled in desegregated schools.  In Louisiana, voters approved an amendment requiring segregation in order to “promote and protect public health, morals, better education and the peace and good order in the State, and not because of race” (Middleton, 2011, p. 330).

As a result of the lack of compliance, the  Supreme Court was forced to consider the stalled desegregation of schools. In what became known as Brown II, the court addressed the concern of when schools had to desegregate. The decision came on May 31, 1955.

“Chief Justice at the time, the Honorable Earl Warren put a lot of pressure on local school districts and the courts which originally heard segregation cases to change and align their communities to fulfill their decision in favor of Brown. According to the Supreme Court’s revisit to Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, district courts and school administrators were to implement the doctrine the Supreme Court had decided upon in its first Brown decision. Chief Justice Warren urged certain localities to act on the new principles without delay and to move toward complete compliance with them “with all deliberate speed” (source).

Still with no desegregation in New Orleans resulting from the Brown II decision, Oliver Bush approached the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) asking them to comply with Brown, but got nothing. So Mr. Bush reopened his lawsuit. In February 1956, the case went before the Eastern District, this time the court agreed with the plaintiff in that the OPSB was violating the Constitution. Judge J. Skelly Wright ordered the OPSB to desegregate but imposed no date by which the law would be enforced (source).

In 1959, now three years after this decision, with no movement towards desegregation, Judge Wright ordered the OPSB to present a plan to desegregate within one year or by May 16, 1960 (Middleton, 2011, p . 330). Still the OPSB did not comply and Judge Wright finally imposed his own plan allowing all first graders to choose to attend their home school which would go into effect in September of 1960.


Six years after the Supreme Court ruled on Brown, public schools in the US, especially in the South, continued to resist the ruling to desegregate. Most people assume the Brown decision was an open and shut case and segregation was history. If it were only that easy.

These are my reflections for today.

April 1, 2017

References:                                                                                                                                                     Byrne, D. Ed. (2005). Brown v. Board of Education: Its impact on public education 1954-2004.  New York: Word for Word Publishing co., Inc.

Middleton, T. (2011). Norman Rockwell’s The problem we all live with: Teaching Bush v. Orleans Parish School Board. Social Education (75)6. 329-333.