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Civil Rights Icon Linda Brown Remembered As Humble

Carla Eckels
The Rev. Shirley Heermance of St. Mark's AME Church in Topeka looks over an array of photos of Linda Brown. Funeral services for Brown were held Thursday in Topeka.

Funeral services were held in Topeka on Thursday for civil rights icon Linda Brown, the schoolgirl at the center of the landmark Supreme Court case that declared school segregation unconstitutional.

Family and friends listened intently to acknowledgments and words of encouragement during the service. Some fanned their faces with fans emblazoned with images of Linda Brown Thompson – her married name – as they listened. She was 75 when she died last month.

Brown was described as humble, creative and an accomplished pianist; she played Sundays at her church, St. Mark’s African Methodist Episcopal in Topeka, for nearly 40 years.

Credit Carla Eckels / KMUW
Mourners greet each other outside St. John AME Church in Topeka after the funeral of civil rights icon Linda Brown.

Her pastor, the Rev. Shirley Heermance, said visitors from all over the country would ask to meet the civil rights figure after church.

“They would ask you, ‘Is that Linda Brown?’ Everybody recognized her of course,” Heermance said. “ ‘Do you think she will give me an autograph?’

“And it would be really fun to watch them be really nervous going to meet her.”

She said Brown always was polite and would oblige the visitors with an autograph.

Terry Crowder, who attended church and sang with Brown as his accompanist, said she was humble about her role in the famous civil rights case. He said she praised the other people involved in the case.

The 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, involved several families trying to end decades of federal law that condoned segregated schools for black and white students.

It began with Brown's father, Oliver, who tried to enroll her at the Sumner School, an all-white elementary school in Topeka just a few blocks from their home.

The school board prohibited her from enrolling and Brown, a pastor at St. Mark's AME Church, was angry that his daughter had to be shuttled miles away to go to school. He partnered with the NAACP and a dozen other plaintiffs to file a lawsuit against the Topeka Board of Education.

Two years later the court struck down the doctrine of "separate but equal." The justices agreed that it denied 14th Amendment guarantees of equal protection under the law.


Carla Eckels is director of cultural diversity and the host of Soulsations. Follow her on Twitter @Eckels.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.


Carla Eckels is Director of Organizational Culture at KMUW. She produces and hosts the R&B and gospel show Soulsations and brings stories of race and culture to The Range with the monthly segment In the Mix. Carla was inducted into The Kansas African American Museum's Trailblazers Hall of Fame in 2020 for her work in broadcast/journalism.