"Don't let someone push you to the side" Topeka Woman Recalls Role In Brown v. Board

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- May 17th marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that ended segregation in public schools. One Topeka woman not only lived through that historic moment, she played a role in creating it.

Growing up in Topeka during the 1940's and 1950's, Katherine Sawyer lived among both whites and blacks, but, when it came time to go to school, she was forced to walk several blocks and take a bus for miles to Buchanan Elementary School - one of the city's four all-black schools.

"We didn't know any different," she said. "Sometimes if you don't know any different, you don't do any different."

It was in 1952 that Sawyer, just 10 years old at the time, and her mother, Lena Carper, took the stand in the groundbreaking Brown vs. Board case that put an end to school segregation two years later.

"I think all of those plaintiffs were looking for a better chance and a better life for their children," said Sawyer.

While the case was monumental for the nation, Sawyer says the adjustment to integration was not easy.

"I went to an all-black school from kindergarten through 6th grade. My teachers were black," she recalled. "Now, nobody looks like me and my teachers were all white. It was hard."

Sawyer said that, even today. the court case didn't solve all of America's racial issues, but she hopes the same courage to stand up for justice doesn't fade as the years go by.

"Do what's right. If you see something, go for it," she said. "Don't let someone push you to the side. Do what's right."

On Wednesday, Sawyer's family said they were invited to sit in the front row when First Lady Michelle Obama speaks at the senior recognition event May 16 at the Expocentre.

A Legacy walk from the Brown v. Board of Education Historical site to Sumner Elementary School is planned from 10:00 a.m. to noon and from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 17.

Posted by: Nick Viviani