by Melissa Brunner
"It's always right to go forth in the struggle for truth and justice for people. You have to have the courage to do it. If nobody does it, then nothing will ever change." -Victoria Lawton Benson, daughter of plaintiff in Brown v. Bd case
I learn from every story I report, but if I had to pick one project from which I learned the most, it was researching a special program to mark the 50th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board Supreme Court ruling in 2004.
The conversations I had with people for that program stick with me to this day. I had the honor of interviewing two of the plaintiffs, Vivian Scales and Zelma Henderson. Vivian passed away in 2005 and Zelma, the last surviving plaintiff, died in 2008. I also met some of the children of the plaintiffs, including Vivian's daughter, Ruth, and Victoria Lawton Benson. What struck me about all of them is that were and are ordinary people, very unassuming and humble in their lives. Yet, they did this extraordinary thing that changed was a catalyst for changing our nation.
The special program from 2004, "Beyond Brown," is just as pertinant for the 60th anniversary as it was for the 50th. I have included it here and invite you to watch it to refresh and perhaps expand your memory of how this story unfolded. For example, you might have wondered, "What do you mean Vivian and Zelma were plaintiffs? I thought it was Oliver Brown." Many people don't realize there were 13 plaintiffs - Brown, et al. And did you know the Brown case was not closed until 1999? Do you kow which three schools are the result of the case? And did you know Gary Sebelius, now a federal magistrate judge and husband of former governor Kathleen Sebelius, played a role in it? We interviewed him in 2004 as well.
To get you ready to watch, I found some of my favorite quotes from the special to share:
"It made me sick and it made me wonder had I done the right thing." -Zelma Henderson, plaintiff, on seeing video of race riots in Detroit
"We just wanted the right thing done. The Lord will make a way if you trust in Him and you believe." -Vivian Scales, plaintiff
"All children should have a chance. Not my neice or my grandson because they are black, but because they're a human being and they deserve the right to be their best." -Victoria Lawton Benson, plaintiff's daughter
"I believe all people should understand one another, love another, for who they are and not as a particular race - and don't teach children hatred." -Zelma Henderson, plaintiff
"When you look back at Brown v. Board and you look back at the civil rights movement, who do you see front and center? You see young people. We're talking about people in their 20s that changed this country. I think often times we don't explain to our youth enough the power they have and it's them that need to feel passionately about something." -Cheryl Brown Henderson, plaintiff's daughter