In high school, I learned about the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which ruled that separate was inherently unequal and declared that laws segregating public schools were unconstitutional. The case virtually overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson case, which codified separate but equal for 60 years. The justices in Brown affirmed that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
The lead plaintiff, Oliver Brown, had a daughter, Linda Brown, who had to walk six blocks to the nearest bus stop to attend an all-black school more than a mile away, while the nearest school — an all-white school — was only seven blocks away. They fought this craziness all the way up to the Supreme Court — and won!
Linda Brown passed yesterday at the age of 75.
More than 60 years after that historic Supreme Court decision, in many respects we find ourselves in a similar situation today: Schools divided both by race and socioeconomic status. While Brown was handed down in the 1950s, it took more than 20 years later for Delaware to finally force its schools to integrate. This was a controversial decision and I have little interest in hashing out that debate on this post. The integration achieved in the 80s and 90s was overturned in some ways Neighborhood Schools Act of 2000, which in many ways resegregated our schools, if not by intents, then by certainly by outcomes over the last 15 years. The landscape we are operating under today is similar in some ways to the world in which Oliver Brown raised his daughter.
Linda Brown, her father, and all those who brought Brown to the Supreme Court are heroes. They are heroes because they stood up against what a loud and very vocal majority at the time demanded: segregated schools. And even with threats of violence and acts of hatred, they continued to stand strong and demand that their civil rights be honored and that children of all colors have the opportunity for successful scholastic careers. The Brown case is the perfect example of why we have a Supreme Court — because when legislators fail to act and protect the rights of the minority, then the Supreme Court must step in to enforce those rights.
Conversations on race and segregation are very difficult to have — as we’ve seen in the last few years. But just because they’re difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have them. I’m taking a moment today to reflect on the braveness of Linda Brown and those who stood up for liberty and justice for all.