Funeral Service Held for Last Surviving Plaintiff in Brown v. Board Suit

By: Rae Chelle Davis Email
By: Rae Chelle Davis Email

Just before 1:00 Tuesday afternoon around 200 guests shuffled into St. John AME chuch at 701 Topeka Blvd. Most of them were dressed in black. Soft voices could be heard speaking about Zelma Henderson.

Henderson died last week after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. She is most remembered for her role as a plaintiff in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case. Family and friends at her service describe her as a "reluctant warrior." Henderson was a member of St. John AME for 60 years.

Among those present were District Attorney Robert Hecht as well as Governor Kathleen Sebelius who spoke during the service.

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Governor Kathleen Sebelius' Remarks:

“This service is a celebration of the life of Zelma Henderson. Mrs. Henderson left an indelible mark on so many in her roles as wife and mother, sister, work colleague, friend and neighbor.

“We offer our thoughts and prayers to her family and friends who will miss her greatly.

“But on behalf of fellow Kansans and all Americans, Zelma Henderson represents something more. Mrs. Henderson reminds us that ordinary people can do extraordinary things; that change comes with acts of courage and moral stamina in the face of daunting odds. Those are the acts that change the world, and Zelma Henderson and her 12 fellow plaintiffs changed the face of America.

“In Kansas we need to be proud of our legacy. We were settled by abolitionists who fought for a free state west of the Mississippi, home to Brown v Board of Education, where parents fought for their children, insisting that the doors of opportunity be open to all, and recognizing that schools provide a gateway to a successful future.

“But to appropriately honor Zelma Henderson and her work, our history needs to serve as prologue to a future where we re-dedicate ourselves to the vision held by the Brown plaintiffs. The son of a Kansan is about to make history as the first African American to receive a party nomination for President of the United States of America.

“As issues of racial divide continue to be discussed across America, the voices from the Heartland need to remind our fellow citizens about the principles upon which this great country and this state was founded - of individual freedom and opportunity for all.

“May we all continue to work in her footsteps and stand on her shoulders as we continue to strive for ‘a more perfect union’ Let us never forget the lessons of Zelma Henderson – that ordinary people, with moral courage and stamina can change the world.

“May God comfort and bless you.”


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