Kansas Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
Oliver Brown And The Naacp
As the man whose name appeared in the title of perhaps the most influential U.S. Supreme Court decision ever, Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954), Oliver Brown was an unlikely hero for the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT. The African American welder, war veteran, and assistant pastor was a quiet, upstanding citizen of Topeka, Kansas, who had never been known to publicly oppose discrimination against his race. However, he took a decisive stand against RACIAL DISCRIMINATION when he joined one dozen other African American parents in filing suit for the right of their children to attend the elementary schools of Topeka alongside white children.
Brown's participation in the lawsuit was encouraged by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which provided necessary legal expertise and organization for the case. Long familiar with the practice of school SEGREGATION in Topeka and many other school districts, NAACP lawyers approached Brown and other parents in the summer of 1950 to see if they would join them in a case that challenged that practice.
It was precisely Oliver Brown's modest qualities that made the NAACP choose him as a plaintiff. His reputation for integrity could help mute criticism in a controversial case that stirred up angry emotions in both the white and black communities of Topeka. The city's white majority was largely content to remain with a school system that maintained eighteen all-white elementary schools and four all-black elementary schools. African Americans, meanwhile, feared the case would cause the white community to attack what few CIVIL RIGHTS they already possessed. Others could not become involved in such a controversy without the fear of losing their jobs with white employers. For that reason, very few African Americans in Topeka actually belonged to the NAACP.
Like many other African American parents, Brown was upset that his daughter had to travel a long distance to an all-black school when an all-white school was located much nearer their home. He also could not help but notice that the all-white schools were in better repair than the all-black schools. Brown agreed to join in the NAACP's case, and in September 1950, he tried unsuccessfully to register one of his three daughters, Linda Brown, in an all-white school only seven blocks from their house. When the case first came to the U.S. District Court for Kansas in June 1951, Brown testified that his daughter had to travel twenty-one blocks to an all-black school, part of the way through a dangerous railroad switching yard.
In the end, African Americans did not seek to end the system of segregation in public schools merely to have their children travel fewer miles to class or sit in nicer buildings. At stake were much more important issues that affected their status in U.S. society. As expressed by NAACP attorneys in later testimony before the Supreme Court, African Americans had come to see segregated schools as inherently unequal. These schools relegated African Americans to an inferior class, instilled feelings of insecurity, diminished their opportunities, and retarded their mental development. The victory eventually achieved in Brown would go a long way toward eliminating those harmful effects of segregation and guaranteeing African Americans their full constitutional rights.
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