Remembering Brown v. Board of Education

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark decision eliminating the separate-but-equal doctrine. This excerpt, from the book All Deliberate Speed, examines the initial resistance by the local, state, and federal governments.

in Topeka, Kansas, Brown had to walk past the nearby Sumner Elementary School located in her integrated neighborhood, to attend all-black Monroe Elementary School, which had broken ceiling tiles and windows. Frustrated with Topeka’s segregated school system and the fact that his daughter had to walk a half-mile in addition to taking a two-mile bus ride across town, Oliver Brown walked into Sumner Elementary with his daughter and requested that she be enrolled. School officials refused to admit Linda — sticking to the school system’s strict segregation policies. This prompted Oliver Brown, along with other black parents and the local chapter of the NAACP, to file a class-action suit against the Topeka school board. The rest is a well-known fact in the annals of American law.

However, what isn’t as widely known is the follow-up lawsuit that came 25 years later. In 1979, Linda Brown Thompson, who was married with two children of her own in the Topeka school system, joined four black lawyers and a group of black parents in a second class-action lawsuit, charging that the Topeka school board had not gone far enough to eliminate the vestiges of segregation. This follow-up case resulted 14 years later in a court-ordered desegregation plan and a multimillion-dollar bond issue to build three new schools. It was a successful legal challenge: According to published accounts, since the 1994-95 school year, the Topeka school district has met the court’s goal of eliminating racially identifiable schools.

Brown Thompson’s life turned out to be more than just an ordinary life. It turned into a crusade for equal education. Today, 50 years after the decision that desegregated the public school system, Brown Thompson continues to speak out on the quality of education for black students. With her sister Cheryl, Brown Thompson chronicles the history of their family’s court battle, as well as its impact on education and the civil rights movement. It is their story that brings this historical case to life. Kenneth Meeks

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