LESSONS IN BLACK HISTORY

Oliver Brown—The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the landmark case of Brown vs. the Board of Education helped lay the groundwork for ending segregation in the United States. Sadly, most people don’t know who Brown was. Oliver Leroy Brown was a welder, minister and father of three in Topeka, Kansas, in 1950. Brown’s 8-year-old daughter Linda was forced to attend a segregated all-black school several miles from the family home, when there was an all-white school several blocks from the Brown home. Brown tried to enroll Linda at Sumner Elementary, but she was denied entrance to the school based on segregation laws. Brown joined with twelve other parents in filing a lawsuit on behalf of twenty black school children. Brown was chosen to be the lead plaintiff in the case, although no one seems to know why. By the time the case was argued before the Supreme Court, more than just the families of Oliver Brown and other parents in Topeka were being represented. In fact, Brown vs. the Board of Education consolidated five cases from four different states, and represented more than 200 plaintiffs. In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, overturning the earlier 1896 case of Plessy vs. Ferguson, which made “separate but equal” the law of the land. The ruling in the Brown case stated that segregated schools must desegregate “with all deliberate speed.” This particular phrasing was open to interpretation, in some cases states took more than twenty years to desegregate the schools.

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