Richard Jackson said a Topeka woman was the right person to lead the Civil Rights movement the past 60-plus years.
Linda Brown was at the center of the historic Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka case in 1954, which led to the national desegregation of schools. Brown, 76, died Sunday in Topeka.
“She made her mark,” Jackson, a former Ottawa mayor, said. “She was still in the fight.”
Jackson met Brown when he was a member of The Brown Foundation board, which was established in 1988 to keep the impact and significance of the famous desegregation case alive. Jackson said it was a rewarding experience to be associated with that board and working beside Brown.
“She was at our meetings,” Jackson said. “She always had something to say. I always remembered her as being a soft spoken, quiet individual. I know she spoke out quite a bit about the Civil Rights movement and things she had gone through as a young child. Just to hear from her what she went through at that age. To be part of a group that was keeping that dream alive [was gratifying]. We’ve accomplished some, but there is still much more to do.”
Brown was 9 years old in 1951 when her father, Oliver Brown, tried to enroll her at Sumner Elementary School, then an all-white school near her Topeka home. When the school blocked her enrollment, her father sued the Topeka Board of Education. Four similar cases were combined with Brown’s complaint and presented to the Supreme Court.
Jackson said Brown at that time probably didn’t understand the gravity of her parents’ motivation.
“As she got older, she had a better understanding,” Jackson said. “As a result of that experience, she was able to speak out more. The family put her in that situation and she had to carry that for the rest of her life. She became the champion for desegregation of schools. We know — even with that Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education — it was many years after that before schools became segregated. There were some schools that shut down rather than to integrate.
Jackson said Brown took that baton, ran with it and became a powerful symbol and spokesperson for the Civil Rights movement. In the days following her death, many national civil rights leaders, such as Jesse Jackson, and government officials, recognized Brown for what she accomplished.
Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer said Brown brought a critical change to our world.
“Sixty-four years ago a young girl from Topeka, Kansas, sparked a case that ended segregation in public schools in America,” he stated Monday. “Linda Brown’s life reminds us that by standing up for our principles and serving our communities we can truly change the world. Linda’s legacy is a crucial part of the American story and continues to inspire the millions who have realized the American dream because of her.”
Colyer ordered flags to be flown at half-staff from Wednesday until sundown Friday to honor the life of Brown.
Richard Jackson said Brown’s lifelong work for civil rights needs to be remembered and honored.
“Society changes very slowly,” Jackson said. “In Linda’s case, have we really made any progress? More things change, the more they stay the same. The work is not done. The past icons are dying off. Somebody has to pick up the baton and stand up for what is right. We are much stronger together. We can accomplish more together than what we will do as individuals. There is a lesson to be learned going forward. We look at our young people, we say ‘the future leaders of tomorrow’ [and] in some respects they are the leaders of today because they are taking their stand and standing up for what they believe.”
Jackson said meeting and working on issues with Brown was an honor.
“She will be missed by all those that knew her and loved her,” he said. “That will include me. I was blessed with the opportunity to have met her.”