Linda Brown passed two weeks ago this Monday and at a precarious time (to say the least) for school segregation in America. Her death, and the upcoming anniversary of the Brown decision, highlight two important aspects of the contemporary struggle for school integration: the rapid pace of resegregation and the devoted work of youth activists of color who carry on her legacy.
Before I get to the contemporary stuff, I want to take a quick look back at Linda Brown. After she passed, I started to collect every news article that I could find about her. I’ve included links to each below – I’m hoping this is useful. Many are reprints of AP coverage, but here are a few that stood out to me:
- This Washington Post article pulled quotes from a speech that she gave in 2004 at the University of Michigan (you can watch the full speech here). The article focuses on the day that she was turned away from Sumner, the all-white school in Topeka. She describes waiting outside the principal’s office for her father, Oliver: “I knew something was causing my father to be very distressed.” And then walking home: “I could feel the tension in his hand, the tension from his body being generated to my hand, because he was very upset about something.” If you can, just try to imagine that moment for a second- the simplicity of it on its face (a father walking with his daughter) and, at the same time, the enormity of it for the rest of American history. An interesting contrast, this NPR article has an interview, done in 1996, with the principal of Sumner about his account of that day.
- Other articles focus on the history of school segregation since the Brown decision. This New York Times piece highlights major court cases limiting school integration and important differences in the North and South. It’s a good article for someone who is just getting to know the legal history of school (de)segregation. This Time article takes a similar approach, but focuses on the broader civil rights struggle after Brown.
- There were few details Linda Brown’s activism after the Brown case, but this is an extremely important part of her legacy. This AP story mentions the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research, which she founded with her sister in 1988. And, this article goes into some detail (I wish there were more) about the legal battles she continued to fight (and win) in favor of school integration, especially a lawsuit in the 70s challenging school resegregation in Topeka.
And, it’s exactly that aspect of her legacy that transitions us into the contemporary fight for school integration. In roughly six weeks, it will be the 64th anniversary of the case that bears her name, and youth activists at IntegrateNYC are planning actions for each week between now and then. The Month of Mobilization (see calendar below) is organized according to Integrate’s 5 Rs of real integration. Each week will include virtual teach-ins and other forms of social media advocacy to raise awareness, resources and energy about each particular theme.
This all leads up to a national week of action that includes a student press conference following the 5/17 anniversary of Brown. As part of this week, the organizers are asking people to post to social media using the separate is still not equal hand symbol (see 5/14-5/16) and #stillnotequal. To become an organizational ally for this effort, email firstname.lastname@example.org by April 10th.
After Brown’s passing, Nikole Hannah-Jones commented that “like many icon names of the Civil Rights Movement, we have conveniently frozen her in amber.” The work of contemporary activists reinvigorates that legacy. Their work takes the moral outrage/urgency of Linda and Oliver Brown’s walk home and puts it to work in the current struggle for school integration, providing maybe the best source we have of hope that the integrated and equitable schools Brown fought for can at last become a reality. Here’s a short (2 min) video overview of the campaign
Linda Brown Articles
Note: Articles variously have her age at 75 and 76, but she was 76.