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May 22, 2008

Last Remaining Plaintiff in Brown V. Board of Education Dies

Zelma Henderson who died last night at the age of 89 was the last living plaintiff to file suit against the Board of Education of Topeka.  This historic trial led to the Supreme Court decision to desegregate schools and served as a major triumph leading to the civil rights era.

In 1950 she signed onto the litigation on behalf of her children challenging Topeka's segregated schools. In all, 13 black parents, including the Rev. Oliver Brown, took part in the federal court case.

The plaintiffs lost in U.S. District Court, but the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, along with similar cases from Virginia, South Carolina and Delaware, all challenging the constitutionality of racial segregation of public schools. They were consolidated by the court as Brown v. Board. A similar case from the District of Columbia was decided the same day, but wasn't part of Brown.

The high court's unanimous ruling overturning school segregation came on May 17, 1954. It outlawed the "separate but equal" doctrine and was a prelude to the civil rights movement.


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