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KCPL acknowledges Brown vs. Board of Education 70th anniversary by telling stories of women behind case

Donna Rae Pearson
Posted at 6:12 PM, May 21, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Public Library (KCPL) acknowledged the 70th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education Tuesday with the stories of the women behind the landmark ruling.

Donna Rae Pearson, a curator with the Kansas Historical Society, brought a traveling exhibit to the Plaza branch Tuesday.

Pearson hopes to teach the community about the women who predominately led the case.

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Donna Rae Pearson shows a map of Topeka's segregated schools before the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954.

“It is an opportunity to look at this case from a different perspective," she said.

Twelve out of the 13 plaintiffs were women, and the case was named after the only male plaintiff — Oliver Brown.

“Those women signed their names on the line to become plaintiffs in the 'Oliver Brown et al.,' and they are the 'et al.' in this case," Pearson said.

Both Pearson and KCPL believe many Americans don't know the women's stories.

“Donna Rae didn’t want their names to be lost to history," said Anne Kniggendorf, who works in public affairs with KCPL.

Pearson said one of the plaintiffs, Lucinda Todd, first became involved with the movement when her daughter could not attend the district's orchestra event.

“Part of the reason they did this again was being able to access those school resources, like being invited to the all-district orchestra," Pearson said.

Pearson said teachers at schools for Black children in Topeka weren't unqualified, but that resources weren't equally distributed between white and Black schools.

“They wanted equal access to the resources available that their taxes paid for, so they went and tried to register their children in white schools," she said.

Pearson said the U.S. still has a long way to go before resources are equally distributed between schools across the country.

"I think even though this story as I tell it is very specific to Topeka, you will see patterns of this story in your community," she said.

Pearson's presentation can be viewed on KCPL's YouTube channel by clicking this link.