On Sunday, March 25, 2018, Linda Brown of Topeka, Kansas, passed away at age 75. Brown was an educational consultant, civil rights activist and public speaker. But to many she was also the face of a historic decision on desegregation in public education.
In 1950, then seven year old Linda Brown asked her father, Oliver, why she had to make a long walk across train tracks and a busy street to catch a bus to an elementary school across town, when the Sumner Elementary School, attended by her friends from the integrated neighborhood in which she lived, was just four blocks from her house. Oliver Brown promised his daughter he would try to change that. Topeka’s high schools and junior high schools were already integrated, but its elementary schools remained segregated. On the advice of the NAACP, he took her to Sumner to enroll, but they were turned away. Oliver Brown then agreed to be a plaintiff in a suit against the Topeka Board of Education. That suit led to a landmark decision from the United States Supreme Court outlawing so-called separate but equal discrimination in public education. By the time of the 2004 ruling, Linda Brown was enrolled in an integrated junior high school.
On the 50th anniversary of the Brown decision, I wrote an essay for Philadelphia’s newspaper serving the legal community, The Legal Intelligencer. On the occasion of Linda Brown’s passing, I am republishing that essay about the case her father brought to fulfill a promise to her.