Washburn Law Mourns Passing of Civil Rights Icon

Photograph: Linda Brown as a childThe Washburn University School of Law community is deeply saddened by the passing of Linda Brown. Oliver Brown, Linda's father, was the lead plaintiff in the case that would lead to the unanimous Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education that desegregated schools not just in Topeka but throughout the United States. Ms. Brown, like many others, suffered the injustices of segregation. She became a symbol of lasting change in American civil society through her family's courage and resolve to fight injustice in the courts.

Professor Janet Thompson Jackson is Chair of Washburn Law's Diversity Committee and Chair of the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research. "Linda, from the beginning, was an integral part of the foundation and remained so for many years," said Ms. Jackson. "She worked with the Head Start library and was always so very excited to give reports on the activities there and the progress of the children. Education and advocating for children were so important to her and were a part of her life's service. She was a very caring person and in a very gentle way exemplified the true meaning of Brown, which was to give opportunity and promise to every child."

Photograph: Linda Brown as an adult

The New York Times has published a moving story reporting on Ms. Brown’s passing.

"The Law School has deep roots in the Brown case, with the majority of the attorneys involved in the case being Washburn Law graduates," said Washburn Law Dean Thomas J. Romig.

Three African American graduates, Charles Scott, '48, John Scott, '47, and Charles Bledsoe, '37, filed the case in 1951. The attorneys worked tirelessly with NAACP Topeka Chapter President McKinley Burnett to recruit a group of 13 families willing to challenge the schoolboard's maintenance of segregated elementary schools in Topeka.

Two other Washburn Law graduates, Lester Goodell, '25, and George Brewster, '29, partners in the firm Wheeler, Brewster, Hunt, and Goodell, represented the Topeka School Board. Kansas Attorney General Harold Fatzer, '33, filed the brief on behalf of the state. Of the three-judge panel assigned to the trial, Delmas Hill, '29, was also a Washburn Law graduate.

When the Supreme Court heard the case in 1952, (in combination with four similar cases from South Carolina, Virginia, Delaware, and the District of Columbia under a consolidated name of Brown), Kansas Assistant Attorney General Paul Wilson, '40, represented the state, and Peter Caldwell, '33, was the Topeka Board of Education's attorney.

The justices, unable to reach a decision, asked to rehear arguments the following term. Paul Wilson again represented the state of Kansas; and Washburn Law Professor Jim Ahrens was asked to research the Fourteenth Amendment for inclusion in Wilson's brief. A recent Washburn Law graduate, Charles McCarter, '53, joined in from the attorney general's office.

On May 17, 1954, Chief Justice Earl Warren read the Court's unanimous opinion declaring school segregation unconstitutional by law and denouncing the doctrine of "separate but equal."

The entire Washburn law community sends its heartfelt condolences to the Brown family. 

For more information on how Washburn Law alumni were involved in the case, please see Brown V. Topeka Board of Education: The Washburn Connection