Linda Brown After the Unanimous Ruling That School Segregation is Unequal: A Proud Heritage: Photos From the Civil Rights Movement

Linda Brown, a fifth grade, 5 year old girl, had to go to a school 5 miles away even though there was a public school just 4 blocks away from her house. She was denied admission to this elementary school because of her race.

This photo was taken in a school in Fort Myer, Virginia on September 8, 1954, months after the the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” (May 17, 1954).

As a third-grader in Topeka, Kansas in the 1950s, Linda Brown Thompson is often credited with single-handedly bringing down segregation in America. The truth is far more nuanced and interesting.

In fact, Brown’s family was just one of thirteen African-American families recruited in Topeka by the NAACP. In 1950, the national civil rights organization was busy enlisting plaintiffs nationwide in preparation for a legal assault on the “separate but equal” Supreme Court ruling that had permitted segregation in American schools for half a century.

In the fall of 1950, the Browns and 12 Topeka families were asked by the NAACP to try and enroll their children in their neighborhood white schools, with the expectation that they would be rejected. The NAACP then filed a lawsuit against the Board of Education in Topeka. That lawsuit and others brought on behalf of plaintiffs in Virginia, South Carolina, Delaware and Washington, DC were presented together on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. By alphabetical accident, because Brown’s name started with a ‘b’, the landmark 1954 decision that ended legalized segregation in America went down in history as “Brown v. Board of Education.”

The Supreme Court ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education was unanimous — the doctrine of “separate-but-equal” was inherently unconstitutional. Delivering the court’s opinion, Chief Justice Earl Warren asserted that “segregated schools are not equal and cannot be made equal, and hence they are deprived of the equal protection of the laws.” This landmark ruling began our nation’s long journey toward school desegregation.

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