Religion Unplugged

The real story of the Rev. Oliver Brown, lead plaintiff in Brown v. Board of Education

By Bobby Ross Jr. | Religion Unplugged

OKLAHOMA CITY — You may think you know the story of the Rev. Oliver Brown, the lead plaintiff in the landmark 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.

You probably don’t.

Nearly seven decades ago, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) pastor’s name was etched in history when the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine. In the Brown v. Board decision, justices ruled state-imposed segregated schools were “inherently unequal” and must be abolished.

But much of what is reported about the lead plaintiff and his family is untrue, Cheryl Brown Henderson — the youngest of the late pastor’s three daughters — said Feb. 7 at Oklahoma Christian University.

“Where Brown v. Board is concerned, the internet is not your friend,” Henderson said. “We’ve discovered that online, there are all these stories about Brown that don’t even resemble the truth.”

The founding president of the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research shared behind-the-scenes details about her family during Oklahoma Christian’s ninth annual History Speaks event.

“On one of the (internet) sites, it said that Oliver Brown came home from World War II incensed about fighting for freedom abroad and coming back and experiencing racial segregation,” Henderson told a crowd of several hundred students, faculty and community members.

She paused just briefly.

“My father was never in the military,” she continued, drawing laughter from the audience. “He was born with an enlarged heart. He could not serve.”

Read the full story.

This story appears in the online magazine Religion Unplugged.

Photo by Judson Copeland

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