Linda Brown 1942-2018
Linda Brown was just a schoolgirl when she found herself at the center of the landmark the United States Supreme Court case, that rejected the racial segregation in American schools died in Topeka, Kansas Sunday afternoon at the age of 76.
The 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, involved several families, all trying to dismantle decades of federal education laws that condoned segregated schools for black and white students. But it began with Brown’s father Oliver, who tried to enroll her at the Sumner School, an all-white elementary school in Topeka just a few blocks from the Browns’ home.
The school board prohibited the child from enrolling and Brown, an assistant pastor at St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, was angry that his daughter had to be shuttled miles away to go to school. He partnered with the NAACP and a dozen other plaintiffs to file a lawsuit against the Topeka Board of Education.
Two years later the court unanimously ruled to strike down the doctrine of “separate but equal.” The justices agreed that it denied 14th Amendment guarantees of equal protection under the law. Even after the Supreme Courts decision, segregation in public schools continued for years. When finally nine black students enrolled at an all-white high school in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957, they had to be escorted onto the campus by federal guards.
By the time of the ruling, Linda Brown was in junior high, a grade level that had been integrated before the 1954 court ruling. The family moved to Springfield, Missouri, in 1959. Oliver Brown died two years later, and his widow moved the girls back to Topeka. Linda Brown went on to attend Washburn and Kansas State universities and had a family. She went through a divorce and later became a widow after her second husband’s death, before her marriage to William Thompson in the mid-1990s. She also worked on the speaker circuit and as an educational consultant.
By the late 1970s, Brown spoke of feeling exploited by the amount of media attention given to the case, with there being a limited awareness that she was a human being as opposed to a lofty historical figure. Nonetheless, she continued to speak out on segregation and reopened the Topeka case with the American Civil Liberties Union in 1979, arguing that the district’s schools still weren’t desegregated. It was eventually ruled by the Court of Appeals in 1993 that the school system was indeed still racially divided, and three new schools were built as part of integration efforts.
Brown passed away in her longtime hometown of Topeka on March 25, 2018. Although her family wouldn’t comment, Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer paid tribute to the woman who sparked one of the landmark cases in American history:
“Sixty-four years ago a young girl from Topeka brought a case that ended segregation in public schools in America,” he tweeted. “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.”
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