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Brown v. Board of Education - Wikipedia

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Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S

Board of Education of Topeka.
(L to R: Vicki Henderson, Donald Henderson, Linda Brown, James Emanuel, Nancy Todd, and Katherine Carper)

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90 held that blacks had the right to attend the new, previously all-white, South Park School.

After achieving success in the case, Esther Brown through her support behind efforts already underway by the NAACP in Topeka to integrate the city's elementary schools. In 1948, a loosely formed group, organized by Topeka NAACP president McKinley Burnett and calling itself "The Citizen's Committee," petitioned the Topeka School Board to end its policy of maintaining separate elementary schools for blacks and whites. The petition noted "The world is in the midst of a mighty upheaval and conditions change in the twinkling of an eye." In ended with the prayer that "the Board take cognizance of our petition and instruct its agents to adopt policies which will be an inspiration to all the people regardless of race, color or creed."

The , adamantly supporting keeping the city's elementary schools segregated. Even many of the city's black teachers were content with the status quo, fearing that their jobs might be in jeopardy in a fully integrated system. As one black teacher explained her opposition to integration, "Do you think the white people would have me teach their children?" The NAACP's petition requesting integration languished for two years. In 1950, McKinley Burnett gave the Board what seemed to be a threat to institute a lawsuit. Burnett later recalled telling the Board, "You've had two years now to prepare for this"--to which a board member replied angrily, "Is that a request or is that an ultimatum?"

In the summer of 1950, the , wrote to Walter White, president of the NAACP, to tell them that the "unbearable" situation in Topeka called for legal action. In a separate letter to White, Burnett wrote, "Words will not express the humiliation and disrespect in this matter." In response to the letters from Topeka, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York initiated contact with the legal team being put together in Kansas. With the help of the national organization's lead attorney on the case, Robert Carter, a complaint, for filing in federal district court, began to take shape.

A complaint requires plaintiffs, and so the NAACP began recruiting black parents of Topeka elementary school children who might be willing to participate in the lawsuit. Eventually, the Kansas branch identified thirteen willing parents, and their twenty elementary-age children, to serve as plaintiffs. The first plaintiff listed in the complaint was a thirty-two-year old assistant minister and welder named , who had an who attended all-black .

On February 28, 1951, with the United States District Court for Kansas. Trial was set for June 25.

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Board of Education of Topeka. (Chief Justice Warren, former governor of California, used his to discourage justices who might have been inclined to write a dissent, including Justice Stanley Reed, from doing so.) The Court held that "

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Supreme Court would prove him right, that demonstrating how segregation adversely affected the ability of black students to learn in the classroom might be the key to winning in the courts. Before heading west to Topeka to assume command of the case, Carter turned to his junior LDF colleague, Jack Greenberg, and assigned him the task of locating expert witnesses willing to testify at the trial.

As the trial date approached, Carter and Greenberg and various NAACP expert witnesses began settling into hotel rooms arranged for the group by Esther Brown. Esther booked Carter and Greenberg into one of Topeka's "colored" hotels, but the lawyers found the room sufficiently scruffy that they promptly relocated to a home of a local NAACP member.

The two NAACP attorneys and the local NAACP attorneys met, a bit uneasily, to decide on strategy for the trial. Topeka attorney John Scott found Carter overbearing: "He knew what he wanted and implied that this was the way it was going to be." The trial would take place before a , a tough-minded conservative Democrat and a former governor of Kansas, Arthur Mellott, and Delmas Hill. Defending the Topeka School Board was Lester Goodell, former prosecuting attorney for the county of which Topeka was the seat. Goodell certainly was not an ardent segregationist, and local attorney for the plaintiffs, John Scott, later questioned whether "Goodell's heart was really in this case."

The first witness called by Robert Carter was Arthur Saville, a former member of the Topeka school board who had just been swept out of office in an election less than three months earlier. Carter hoped to probe the reasons for the school board's policy of segregation, but Judge Huxman quickly cut off this line of questioning, declaring it irrelevant to the issue in the case, whether or not the board's policy violated the equal protection rights of the plaintiffs. Carter then turned to his next witness, former Superintendent of Schools Ken McFarland, who also was recently removed from school board politics, having just resigned in the face of a financial scandal. Carter's examination of McFarland also proved rather pointless, other than gaining the concession that the board's policy sometimes meant that black children would have to travel a greater distance from their homes to their schools than they otherwise would. McFarland pointed out that the district supplied buses for black children, but not for whites, to alleviate the effects of their sometimes extended journeys from home.

Each of the plaintiffs was given his or her chance to testify. Questioned by local attorney Charles Bledsoe, appeared nervous on the stand. Judge Huxman had to urge Brown to speak up. Eventually, however, Brown's story came out. He testified that Linda had to leave home at 7:40 each morning and walk through the dangerous switching yards of the Rock Island Line on her way to the bus stop where she would be picked up and taken to the all-black Monroe Elementary School. He said the bus was often late and that "many times she had to wait through the cold, the rain and the snow until the bus got there." Moreover, Brown said, the bus schedule was inconveniently timed, forcing Linda to wait for up to ninety minutes some days until the school doors opened at nine. When Bledsoe asked Brown if he would prefer to have Linda attend the much closer Sumner School, Goodell objected. Judge Huxman said the court could take judicial notice of the fact that parents almost always would prefer to have their children attend a school closer to home than one far away. After a few meaningless questions on cross-examination, Oliver Brown was excused--and took his place as a footnote in history books.


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Board of Education of Topeka is widely known as the Supreme Court decision that declared segregated schools to be "inherently unequal." The story behind the case, including that of the 1951 trial in a Kansas courtroom, is much less known. It begins sixty miles to the east of Topeka in the Kansas City suburb of Merriam, Kansas, where , a thirty-year-old white Jewish woman, became incensed at the local school board's reluctance to make modest repairs in a dilapidated school for area black students, even while it passed a bond issue to construct a spanking new school for whites. Eventually, Esther's empathy would cause her to push the state's NAACP chapter to launch a campaign to end segregation in Kansas schools--a campaign that would lead to victory on May 17, 1954 when a unanimous Supreme Court declared that the Topeka Board of Education's policy of segregation violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.

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