Equal, Not Separate

Supreme Court Building

“In 1950, eight-year-old Linda Carol Brown discovered she could not attend the Sumner School, even though it was only a ten-minute walk from her home on First Street in Topeka, Kansas. At the time, she could scarcely have imagined that a lawsuit in her name would make United States history.

“The Browns, who were African Americans, lived in a mixed ethnic neighborhood near the Sumner School. They had received a notice at their front door telling them how to register their children for fall classes. Linda’s father, Oliver, took her to the school and left her outside while he went to the principal’s office. When he came out a few minutes later, Linda saw that he was upset. What the notice didn’t say was that the Sumner School was for whites only.

“Linda and her two sisters were being kept out of Sumner because Topeka city law set up separate elementary schools for blacks and whites.

“As Oliver Brown later told the federal judge who would hear the case, it was dangerous to have Linda travel six blocks on foot through a vast amount of traffic, then take a school bus to the Monroe School reserved for black children. In order for her to go to the school across town, she had to leave her house at 7:40 A.M., walk between the train tracks from the railroad yard on First Street, and wait for the bus. Frequently, the bus was late, leaving her on the corner in the cold, rain, or snow. If the bus came on time, Linda would arrive half an hour before school opened at 9:00 A.M., and be forced to wait outside. She often had to clap her hands or jump up and down to keep warm.

“Oliver Brown did not want his child exposed to these hardships. He wanted Linda to be able to go to her neighborhood school, a safe seven-block walk from home. So he decided to fight for her right to do so in the courts. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) took up Linda’s case, together with that of seven other black children, against the Topeka Board of Education. Linda Carol Brown, whose family name was first in alphabetical order, led the way.”

The case, of course, was Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision which mandated equal schooling for all, by overturning the ignominious 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. Plessy permitted “separate but equal” – which is to say de facto unequal – access to public services and facilities. The decision in Plessy v. Ferguson is 113 years old today.

(The preceding excerpt is taken from the Enslow Publishers series of Landmark Supreme Court Cases, Brown v. Board of Education: Equal Schooling for All, by Harvey Fireside and Sarah Betsy Fuller. You’ll find it in the Young Adult section of the library.)

Published in: on May 18, 2009 at 2:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

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