May 17, 1954: Brown v. Board of Education Was Decided, Making Linda Brown a Symbol of Equality

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    May 17, 1954: Brown v. Board of Education Was Decided, Making Linda Brown a Symbol of Equality

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      Sari Rosenberg

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      May 17, 1954: Brown v. Board of Education Was Decided, Making Linda Brown a Symbol of Equality

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      January 22, 2019

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      A+E Networks

On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that segregation in United States public schools was inherently unequal. The decision paved the way for the integration of public schools. The parents of Linda Brown and other Topeka parents had filed a lawsuit with the NAACP against the Board of Education to reverse its policy of racial segregation. After the Supreme Court decision, Brown became a symbol of school integration and spent the rest of her life fighting against segregation.

Brown was born on February 20, 1943 in Topeka, KS. Brown lived in an integrated neighborhood, with an elementary school four blocks from her home. However, Topeka public elementary schools were segregated and the nearby school was for white students only. Brown had to travel a long distance to attend the school designated for African-American children.

In 1950, the NAACP asked a group of African-American parents in Topeka to challenge the segregation law by attempting to enroll their children in the nearby white school. As expected, they were turned away. The NAACP responded by filing a lawsuit against the Board of Education of Topeka. Since the plaintiffs were listed in alphabetical order, Brown’s father was the first plaintiff name to appear in the case brief.

In 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Brown and the other plaintiffs. The court held that state-sanctioned segregation of public schools was unconstitutional, as it was a violation of the 14th Amendment. This ruling meant that school segregation was no longer legal in the United States. The court said: “To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.” This decision was a watershed moment for the Civil Rights Movement.

When the Supreme Court made their Brown v. Board of Education decision, Linda Brown was already in middle school. After high school, she attended Washburn University and Kansas State University. Brown got married and raised her two children in her hometown of Topeka, KS. Devoted to the continuing fight for equality in the United States, she worked as an educational consultant and speaker. Throughout her life, she continued to speak out against segregation. In 1979, her family was among several others that reopened the original Brown case. With the assistance of the ACLU, they argued that Topeka had still not integrated their schools. They won their case, resulting in a desegregation plan that opened several new public and magnet schools.

Brown passed away on March 25, 2018, at 76 years old. Her legacy endures in the continued effort to achieve equal opportunities for all Americans.

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