Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka is widely known as the Supreme Court decision that declared segregated schools to be "inherently unequal." The story behind the case, including that of the 1951 trial in a Kansas courtroom, is much less known. It begins sixty miles to the east of Topeka in the Kansas City suburb of Merriam, Kansas, where Esther Brown, a thirty-year-old white Jewish woman, became incensed at the local school board's reluctance to make modest repairs in a dilapidated school for area black students, even while it passed a bond issue to construct a spanking new school for whites. Eventually, Esther's empathy would cause her to push the state's NAACP chapter to launch a campaign to end segregation in Kansas schools--a campaign that would lead to victory on May 17, 1954 when a unanimous Supreme Court declared that the Topeka Board of Education's policy of segregation violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.
Segregation in Topeka
In 1876, Kansas required that all of its public schools be open to all students, regardless of their race. Just three years later, however, the legislature backed away from its enlightened approach to racial issues, and authorized school boards in cities of over 15,000 persons to establish separate black and white schools for elementary and junior high students. Topeka exercised its option to segregate its elementary schools, and the Topeka School Board's policy of segregation was upheld by the Kansas Supreme Court in 1903, seven years after the U. S. Supreme Court upheld the principle of "separate but equal"....Continued