Rev. Oliver Brown
Lead Plaintiff, father of Linda Brown
By Jennifer Torrens, class of 2004
Rev. Oliver Leon Brown made a living for
his wife and three children as a minister at St. Marks A.M.E.
and as a railroad welder in Topeka. When he was only 32 years
old, Oliver attempted to enroll his 8-year-old daughter, Linda,
at Sumner Elementary, a white school close to his home. At
the time Linda was attending Monroe Elementary which required
a five mile bus ride, plus a walk through the unsafe railroad
yard just to get there.
When his attempt failed, he and 12 other
parents in Topeka filed suit on behalf of 20 African-American
children who were denied access to white elementary schools.
Of 13 families involved in the case, Oliver was chosen as
the lead plantiff because he was the only man. Some say it
was chosen alphabetically, but if that were the case plantiff
Darlene Brown would have been first. Many say it is interesting
that his name is associated with the case because he was no
more involved than other parents.
"The Brown decision is named for an
African-American man who in 1950 was a young parent, only
32 years old. Although his participation was almost coincidental,
the fact remains that it is his name that is attached to what
is said to be one of the most pivotal events in U.S. History.
This unknowing icon was my father," said Cheryl Brown
Henderson, Oliver's youngest daughter, in November 2000 in
The Legacy of Brown Forty Six Years Later.
Oliver died in 1961, ten years after the
suit was filed and seven years after the United States Supreme
Court decision. Since Oliver died before the media sophistication
of court television, he only participated in one televised
interview. It would take 20 years for the court's decision
to be fully implemented, and Oliver died before he was able
to see what effect he made on school systems in the United
Oliver's youngest daughter, Cheryl, founded
The Brown Family Foundation in his name with a goal of comemmorating
the anniversary, the importance of the court decision, and
to honor the people involved in the case. The Foundation provides
scholarships to minority students, establishes programs to
emphasize diversity and sponsors performances, lectures, and
conferences to encourage understanding of different cutures.