Funeral services were held in Topeka on Thursday for civil rights icon Linda Brown, the schoolgirl at the center of the landmark Supreme Court case that declared school segregation unconstitutional.
Family and friends listened intently to acknowledgments and words of encouragement during the service. Some fanned their faces with fans emblazoned with images of Linda Brown Thompson – her married name – as they listened. She was 75 when she died last month.
Brown was described as humble, creative and an accomplished pianist; she played Sundays at her church, St. Mark’s African Methodist Episcopal in Topeka, for nearly 40 years.
Her pastor, the Rev. Shirley Heermance, said visitors from all over the country would ask to meet the civil rights figure after church.
“They would ask you, ‘Is that Linda Brown?’ Everybody recognized her of course,” Heermance said. “ ‘Do you think she will give me an autograph?’
“And it would be really fun to watch them be really nervous going to meet her.”
She said Brown always was polite and would oblige the visitors with an autograph.
Terry Crowder, who attended church and sang with Brown as his accompanist, said she was humble about her role in the famous civil rights case. He said she praised the other people involved in the case.
The 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, involved several families trying to end decades of federal law that condoned segregated schools for black and white students.
It began with Brown's father, Oliver, who tried to enroll her at the Sumner School, an all-white elementary school in Topeka just a few blocks from their home.
The school board prohibited her from enrolling and Brown, a pastor at St. Mark's AME Church, was angry that his daughter had to be shuttled miles away to go to school. He partnered with the NAACP and a dozen other plaintiffs to file a lawsuit against the Topeka Board of Education.
Two years later the court struck down the doctrine of "separate but equal." The justices agreed that it denied 14th Amendment guarantees of equal protection under the law.
Carla Eckels is director of cultural diversity and the host of Soulsations. Follow her on Twitter @Eckels.
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