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Linda Brown’s legacy

By AARON BETANCOURT

Linda Brown, the schoolgirl associated with the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, died Sunday, March 25 at the age of 76 in Topeka, Kansas. The case began in 1951 when Brown was denied enrollment to Sumner Elementary School, an all-white school a few blocks away from her family residence. Oliver Brown knew his daughter did not deserve to be subject to discrimination because of her skin color. She had every right to be a student at Sumner, just like every other white child that went there. Privilege is not determined by physical appearance which was exactly why the next year, Oliver partnered with the NAACP and other plaintiffs to file a lawsuit against the Topeka Board of Education. Oliver Brown challenged the racially segregated school system and claimed it violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Two years later, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine. After a long hard fight in one of the most segregated times in history, the Brown’s resilience led them on a path to victory.

Linda Brown learned through her father to not give up and to always challenge the system if your beliefs are strong enough. Her father’s fight for equality caused the Topeka Board of Education to embrace a new form of acceptance. No other parent would struggle to explain to their colored child why they were forbidden to attend the same school as their white friends. At a young age Linda received the best of both worlds from attending a segregated to desegregated school. She was able to experience first hand how each school may be different. She can now feel confident that she had the same rights and privilege as anyone else. An education is everyone’s right and should be a choice not an assignment. Brown vs. Board of Education would pave the way to Linda’s future activism.   

In 1979, Linda Brown partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union and reopened the case against the Topeka Board of Education, claiming there was still racial segregation in the district’s schools. She would not stand to see her hometown go backwards after they fought so hard for desegregation. With her courage to fight, the Court of Appeals ruled that in fact the Topeka school systems were still segregated and as a result three new desegregated schools were built. The color of her skin did not stop her. She did not let the past rules of society stay set in stone. She worked hard for reform. She is the prime example of never giving up.

With so many polarizing current events such as gun control reform and DACA it is important to remember how impactful one person’s voice once was and that change does not always happen in one night. Speaking up for reforms, equal rights, or beliefs will never be easy but it will definitely be worth it. Linda and Oliver Brown fought for equality and reform and with time and resistance achieved their goal. Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer released a touching tweet on Monday March 26 stating “Linda Brown’s life reminds us that sometimes the most unlikely people can have an incredible impact and that by serving our community we can truly change the world.”

This is true for anyone regardless of skin color, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality or economic class. If Oliver Brown was silent and submissive his young daughter would have kept traveling to a distant school. Had she not fought to advance her community’s civil rights, there is a possibility Topeka could have continued segregating schools. Look at yourself as a fighting force. Believe that your voice is loud enough to be heard. Change comes with fight and unity. Linda did not only remain the face of change in her youth. She applied what she learned from her father as an adult. Because more kids were given a chance at an education with three new schools, students who once were in segregated schools were given an opportunity to experience something new, something a little closer to equality. Linda’s courage and strength will always be remembered.

Aaron Betancourt can be reached at aaron.betancourt@spartans.ut.edu

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