Linda Brown, who was a little girl when a court case that centered around her against a local school would change American history and U.S. education forever, died on March 25, at the age of 75.
The famous case known as Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, ended legal school segregation in all American schools. The court’s decision was a legal override of the Supreme Court decision in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. That ruling allowed segregation.
But on May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, ruled unanimously that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” and that American schools should be integrated “with all deliberate speed”.
Several school segregation cases were combined in the legal effort — all the cases were NAACP-sponsored. The cases included one originating from a 16-year-old student activist, Barbara Rose Johns, who led a walkout of 400 students at Moton High School in Prince Edward County, Va.
Linda Brown passed away in her hometown of Topeka, Kansas. She was 9 years old in 1951. That year, her father, Oliver Brown, a pastor and local activist, attempted to enroll his daughter in the local all white Sumner Elementary School. The school was closest to where the Brown’s lived.
At the time the famous lawsuit was filed, Linda Brown was a third grader. She had to walk six blocks to her school bus stop and then take a ride to a segregated school, Monroe Elementary, for another mile.
The Sumner School barred her enrollment because she was African American and her father filed suit against the Topeka Board of Education.
In May 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” and therefore was a violation of the 14th Amendment and a denial of “equal protection under the law.”
The court’s decision further stated that “segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The effect is greater when it has the sanction of the law, for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to [retard] the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racial[ly] integrated school system. We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.”