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A Look Back at a Landmark Decision

May 2004 was the 50th anniversary of a court case that changed history, Brown v. Board of Education. In that 1954 court case, the United States Supreme Court ruled that having separate schools for African American students and white students went against the United States Constitution.

Law of the Land

The court case came about because Linda Brown's father wanted a good education for his daughter. Linda Brown was a third-grade student in Topeka, Kansas. She was one of many African American children who attended African American–only schools. Even though the school for white students was just blocks from her house, Linda had to travel all the way across town to an all–African American school.

Segregated, or separate, public schools were legal at the time—as long as the African American and white students had the same education. That idea was known as “separate but equal.”

In reality, segregated schools were not equal. Schools for African American students were generally in poor condition and overcrowded. Students lacked supplies. Schools for white students were newer and had smaller classes and better supplies.

When Linda was not allowed into the all-white school, her father and 12 other parents started a court case against the Topeka school system. The case was eventually heard by the Supreme Court. The Court ruled that “separate educational facilities are . . . unequal.”

Fifty Years Later

As a child, Linda Brown was part of the integration of America's public schools. Integration is the act of including people of all races.

Today, Linda Brown is grown up. She travels around the country to speak about the case. Not long ago she told the Omaha World-Herald, “Little did [my father] know when he stepped off the witness stand, he stepped into the pages of history.”