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Black History Month Highlight

Posted by Casey Kelley on

Remembering and Honoring Linda Brown

When it comes to celebrating Black History Month, no conversation would be complete without mentioning Linda Brown. When she was just a young girl in elementary school, Brown became the face of a blossoming civil rights movement. Her goal? To work alongside other marginalized families and students to right the wrongs of segregation in American schools. Her case, Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, set a new precedent work toward ending segregation in public schools.

Growing up in Topeka, KS

Back in 1943 on February 20, Brown was born to her parents Oliver and Leloa in Topeka, KS. Although Brown was born into a multi-racial and multicultural neighborhood, Topeka’s population was less than 10 percent black at the time. As Brown grew older, she began to attend an all black public elementary school located over two miles from her home. Being the nearest school that Brown could attend, crossed dangerous railroad lines on her own daily to take classes at Monroe Elementary. Conversely, there was an all white school located just four blocks away from Brown’s home. At the time, middle and high schools were desegregated, but elementary schools were not.

Separate but Equal Doctrine

After entering elementary school, Brown and her family quickly grew tired of her daily trek to a school that was out of her way every day. In 1951, Brown and her father went to the all white Summer School nearby their home requesting entrance. They were quickly denied. This became a first-class lawsuit against the Board of Education of Topeka. By 1952, the U.S. Supreme Court had also seen similar cases hailing from Delaware, the District of Columbia, South Carolina and Virginia. As a part of a larger plan constructed by the National Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and over 200 other plaintiffs, Brown and her father set out the segregation of schools of a national level. Primarily, the focus of these cases was to abolish Jim Crow and other racially discriminatory laws.

A Victory for Equality

Plaintiffs argued that the segregation of schools denied their rights outlined by the 14th Amendment that guarantees equal protection under the law. The main aim of these collective lawsuits was to challenge a precedent set by the 1896 decision of Plessy vs. Ferguson. This case was used to establish the ruling that racially segregated facilities were lawful as long as they provided equal services. This decision allowed for the segregation of public spaces, including schools. However, on May 17, 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that “in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place”. It was also found that black schools had a “detrimental effect” on students because of inferior resources. After four years of ongoing lawsuits, this decision replaced the “separate but equal” ruling of Plessy vs. Ferguson, setting a new legal precedent. This precedent was used to desegregate other public facilities in the future.

A Legacy to Last a Lifetime

Although Brown became the young face of a blossoming civil rights revolution, her efforts to fight for equality did not stop in her youth. Brown went on to reopen her famous Topeka case with the American Civil Liberties Union in 1979. This reopening was in response to the district’s lack of integration of its schools, decades after the decision of the famous case. In 1993, the Court of Appeals agreed with Brown’s claims, building three new schools in response as a part of integration efforts. After Brown’s passing at the age of 76, her legacy and impact on civil rights efforts in the United States are still remembered to this day. As Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund explained, “She stands as an example of how ordinary school children took center stage in transforming this country.” Brown serves as a reminder that when children believe that they can #DoAnything, great things are accomplished!

Linda Brown

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