Remembering Linda Brown and the History of Black Education

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By Brianna Rhodes, Special to the AFRO

To honor the life and legacy of Linda Brown, the historic pioneer at the center of the 1954 ruling to end school segregation who died in March, the African American Culture Heritage Action Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation is recognizing the often overlooked sites that continue to tell the story of Black education in America.

“Linda Brown, like civil rights icons such as Mary McLeod Bethune, Mary Church Terrell and other significant and heroic Black women and youth changed our nation,” said Brent Leggs, director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

This undated file photo, location unknown, shows Linda Brown. Brown, the Kansas girl at the center of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down racial segregation in schools. (AP Photo)

“Their courage in the face of Jim Crow racism helped to end symbols of White supremacy such as racial segregation in public schools and we believe at the National Trust that Linda Brown’s courage is to be admired and is a life lesson for today’s youth fighting for social justice,” he added.

Places that tell the history of Black education span the country from Little Rock Central High School, where in 1957 nine African American students desegregated the high school, and to the Abiel Smith School in Boston, the first public school for African-American children, which opened in 1835.

These schools represent the physical manifestation of social movements in response to past crises in Black education and the stories they keep must be preserved and protected for future generations, according to Leggs.

Even today, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) continue to serve and educate Black Americans in the nation. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is working to preserve the history of HBCUs including at Howard University, where Founder’s Library played a major role in the Brown v. Board of Education case.

Founder’s Library at Howard University (Photo/Library of Congress)

“We got involved with Founder’s because of its civil rights legacy and that is where Charles Hamilton Houston and Thurgood Marshall devised the legal strategy that we know as Brown v. Board of Education when the Howard University law school was housed in Founder’s Library,” Leggs said. “These places are important to our national identity and they must be preserved.”

Leggs recommends those who are interested in learning more about Brown story and the history of Black education to visit historic places such as the national historic site in Topeka, Kansas which includes Monroe Elementary School, the segregated school Brown attended.

He also recommends visiting the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, the largest collection of African-American history in the United States in Founder’s Library at Howard University. Visitors can learn about the rich, Black experience in our nation, including the story of segregation in education, according to Leggs.

Marita Rivero, the director of the Museum of African American History, Boston and Nantucket, finds it important to note that Brown is a part of the long continuum of Black people who have fought for first-class education for all children.

Rivero, who also serves as a board member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said that Black people have valued education for centuries and fought to create schools to provide the best education possible. Linda Brown was part of that succession of people in history and there are many people who have come after her who continued to struggle.

“I just think that we like to think about history because it really shows you that when people come together, it’s a reaction to strengthen our democracy to fight for human rights,” Rivero said.

“If there’s one thing Linda Brown story tells us, it is that we can make change. We can come together. We can struggle together and use our legal strengths, our media strengths and our strengths as a community to make positive change,” Rivero added.