Last updated: January 10, 2022
Rev. Oliver Leon Brown served as lead plaintiff, one of 13 plaintiffs, in the Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court case.
The Brown decision determined that "In the field of public education, the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal," beginning the process of de facto overturning Plessy v. Ferguson.
It was both the culmination of a century of personal struggles and legal battles; and the legal, social, moral, and philosophical underpinning for the major civil rights actions to come.
Rev. Brown led a relatively normal life at the time as a family man, homeowner in an integrated neighborhood, assistant pastor at St. Mark AME church, and union welder for the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad at the time.
However, because his oldest daughter, Linda, was unable to attend their local all-white school and was forced to travel 24 blocks to the nearest African American school, Monroe Elementary, brown was recruited by the NAACP through his childhood friend, attorney Charles Scott, to participate in a class-action lawsuit against the Board of Education of Topeka.
His youngest daughter, co-founder of the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research -- Cheryl Brown Henderson, would later say he was an 'ordinary' man, who "Simply was called to engage in something extraordinary."
Though Rev. Brown was not the first to join the suit, or the first plaintiff alphabetically, the case was filed in Rev. Brown's name and he was assigned the role of Lead Plaintiff, representing his daughter Linda. Though the reason for this assignment was never explicitly stated, and several theories - such as being the only male plaintiff - prevail, the fact remains that the name Brown became etched in American history as a quintessential civil rights figure.
In 1959, Brown and his family moved to Springfield, Missouri, where he served as pastor of Benton Avenue A.M.E Church.
Brown abruptly died of a heart attack on June 20, 1961, when traveling with fellow pastor Maurice Lange to Topeka where his wife, Leola, and daughters were visiting her parents.