Linda Brown: “The Fight for a Better Education

“I was kind of afraid at first. I didn’t talk about it very much, I guess, because I was afraid it would get back to someone who would make trouble. Last year in American history class we were talking about segregation and the Supreme Court decisions, and I thought, ‘Gee, someday I might be in the history books!’”— 1961 interview with the (New York Times), from Linda Brown. Before the Civil Rights Movement began Linda’s father, Oliver Brown felt that his daughter should have the same rights as any other kid in America. Linda Brown became a positive influence on the Civil Rights Movement by challenging segregation, racism, and gaining equal education for African American students.

Linda Brown was born on February 20, 1942, in Topeka, Kansas, to Leola and Oliver Brown. Even though she and her two younger sisters grew up in a diverse neighborhood, Linda was forced to walk across railroad tracks and take a bus to grade school despite there being a school four blocks away from her home. This was due to the elementary schools in Topeka being racially segregated. Each day, Linda Brown and her sisters had to walk across those dangerous railroad tracks to get to the bus stop for the ride to their all-black elementary school.

Linda and her family believed that the segregated school system was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and decided to take their case to court. The Federal district court decided that segregation in public education was harmful to black children, but because all-black schools and all-white schools had similar buildings, transportation, curricula, and teachers. But they didn’t do anything about it because segregation was legal. The Browns appealed their case to the Supreme Court, stating that even if the facilities were similar, segregated schools could never be equal to one another. The Court decided that state laws requiring separate but equal schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (History Editors).

Linda Brown was the oldest out of the three of Brown’s’ children. She graduated from Central High School in Springfield, Missouri and received certification in early childhood education from Kansas State University. As one of the children of the Oliver Brown, that the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case in Brown v. Board of Education is named, Linda Brown traveled the country with other family members lecturing about the history of this significant civil rights milestone. She along with her family and others involved in the cases consolidated under Brown were guests at the White House during the Clinton and Obama Administrations

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People asked a group of African-American parents that included Oliver Brown to attempt to enroll their children in all-white schools in the year 1950. Knowing that they would be turned away by the schools. Oliver attempted to do this with his daughter Linda, who was in third grade at the time and barred from enrollment at Sumner Elementary. The strategy of the civil rights group to file a lawsuit on behalf of the 13 families, who represented different states that had the same conflict. The Brown v. Board case was never centered around one individual. There were nearly three hundred plaintiffs on the roster in the lawsuit (Brown Foundation).

The Topeka case involved 12 schools. Including four segregated African American elementary schools in Topeka, the case also involved eight segregated schools for white children. Where African American parents attempted to enroll their children. During the court proceedings, Linda attended Monroe and McKinley elementary schools. Since Brown’s name happened to come first alphabetically, they were the first case to get started on. This case would become known as the Brown v. Board of Education and it would be taken to the Supreme Court. The lead attorney working on behalf of the families was future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

In an interview for “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years,” Linda Brown noted her father’s motivations for enrolling her in Sumner, “My father was like a lot of other black parents here in Topeka at that time. They were concerned not about the quality of education that their children were receiving, they were concerned about the amount of distance, that the child had to go to receive an education (1985).” It took her over two miles to walk in dangerous conditions to get to the all-black school on the other side of town. Linda continued saying that, that her father felt that it was wrong for black people to have to accept second-class citizenship, and that meant being segregated in their school. This was one of the reasons that he became involved in this suit because he felt that it was wrong for his child to have to go so far a distance to receive a quality education (Melissa).

When the Browns’ case went to court they found their justice. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Browns. The Court found the practice of segregation unconstitutional and refused to apply its decision in Plessy v. Ferguson to the field of public education. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the opinion for the Court. The Court noted that public education was central to American life. Calling it, the very foundation of good citizenship, they acknowledged that public education was not only necessary to prepare children for their future professions and to enable them to actively participate in the democratic process, but that it was also, a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values present in their communities. The justices found it very unlikely that a child would be able to succeed in life without a good education. Access to such education was seen as a right that the court held, that must be made available to all on equal terms (THIRTEEN).

The justices then assessed the equality of the facilities that the Board of Education of Topeka provided for the education of African American children against those provided for white children. Departing from the Court’s earlier reasoning in Plessy, the justices here argued that separating children solely on the basis of race created a feeling of inferiority in the hearts and minds of African American children. Segregating children in public education created and perpetuated the idea that African American children held a lower status in the community than white children, even if their separate educational facilities were substantially equal intangible factors. This feeling of inferiority reduced the desire to learn and achieve in African American children and had a tendency to retard their educational and mental development and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system. The Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public education denied African American children the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment (James).

One year after the case occurred, the Court addressed the implementation of its decision in a case known as Brown v. Board of Education II, Chief Justice Warren once again wrote an opinion for the unanimous court. The Court acknowledged that desegregating public schools would take place in various ways, depending on the unique problems faced by individual school districts. After charging local school authorities with the responsibility for solving these problems, the Court instructed federal trial courts to oversee the process and determine whether local authorities were desegregating schools in good faith, mandating that desegregation take place with deliberate speed.

Linda Brown, who as a schoolgirl was at the center of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that rejected racial segregation in American schools. She and others all challenged the constitutionality of racial segregation in public schools. Linda Brown was able to achieve her dream of being in history books by being a part of the Civil Rights Movement.”

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