Education Race

Linda Brown, Icon of School Desegregation, Dies at 75

Linda Brown, who as a child was at the center of the historical Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, died on Sunday in Topeka, Kansas at the age of 75.

Brown grew up in a fairly integrated neighborhood. In a 1985 interview, she recalled, “I played with children that were Spanish-American. I played with children that were white, children that were Indian, and black children in my neighborhood.”

Her parents were dissatisfied that despite having a white school in her neighborhood, Brown was forced to walk long distances through dangerous traffic to get to the black elementary school. When they tried to enroll her in the local white school, she was denied, and her father filed a lawsuit with the assistance of the NAACP.

The case was argued before the Supreme Court by Thurgood Marshall, who magnificently reasoned that the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine established in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) was an unconstitutional method for keeping black people “as near slavery as possible,” leading to a ruling that effectively ordered the end of segregation in America’s public schools. By the time the ruling came down, Brown was already attending an integrated middle school. Unfortunately, school segregation would continue for years after the ruling, until nine black students entered what had up until that point been an all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, escorted by federal troops against the orders of the Governor.

In 1979, Linda Brown reopened a version of the original case, arguing that Topeka had not done a sufficient job integrating the public schools. The courts agreed with her, and the case led to the opening of several magnet schools.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, stated, “Linda Brown is one of that special band of heroic young people who, along with her family, courageously fought to end the ultimate symbol of white supremacy—racial segregation in public schools. She stands as an example of how ordinary schoolchildren took center stage in transforming this country.”

Media Resources: Feminist Newswire 8/20/18; New York Times 3/26/18; NPR 3/26/18

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