Linda Brown Thompson

On behalf of the Center for Advancing Opportunity (CAO), I offer condolences to the family and friends of Linda Brown Thompson, who passed away on March 25, 2018. Most people know of Linda Brown as the lead plaintiff in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, in which a unanimous Supreme Court of the United States ruled that state-sponsored segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. This landmark decision chipped away at the foundation of Jim Crow education that had been in place since the end of the Civil War and, in an interesting way, reopened a 167-year old conversation about the role of education in a democratic society.

We have made tremendous strides in closing gaps in American society through education since 1954. Evidence of this includes the following: a higher percentage of 18–25 year olds with a high school diploma or postsecondary credential; numerous programs that promote racial and economic integration in K-12 schools; and a teaching, civilian, and military workforce more diverse and dynamic than was imaginable when “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” was America’s calling card.

Still, we have miles to go to make the principles of Brown, and our charters of freedom — The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights — a reality for millions of families, children, and educators. This is particularly true for people living in fragile communities throughout the United States. To address this issue, CAO brought together leading education experts and advocates on May 30, 2017 to discuss the impact of Brown on integration, politics, and student achievement, as well as to consider potential reforms that could help to continue moving toward more educational opportunity in our schools.

As we reflect on the passing of Linda Brown Thompson, let us take a moment to realize where we are as a nation because of the courage and sacrifices made by the Brown family, as well as plaintiffs in Virginia, South Carolina, Delaware, and the District of Columbia, on behalf of all children in search of a quality K-20 education the United States.

Let us also take a moment to reflect on the Herculean efforts of formerly enslaved Africans to promote free universal public education for all schoolchildren in the South during their tenure as Reconstruction-era state legislators. W.E.B. DuBois wrote about this overlooked moment in American history. They are among the early policy pioneers for education and opportunity, the kind that Brown sought for our children then, and what we seek today.

One way to honor the spirit of the decision is to donate to the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research. Linda’s sister, Cheryl Brown Henderson, is the president. I had the honor to host a one-on-one conversation with her on March 9, 2016. Her insights, and those of other plaintiffs at the conference, provide important lessons that can inform how we move forward as a nation.