Through the eyes of the children: Brown v. Board 65 years later

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - As a seven-year-old child, Vicki Lawton Benson remembers the tune of her mother Maude Lawton’s son.

“She could play the piano by ear,” Vicki said. “And she had a beautiful singing voice.”

Donald Henderson’s mother Zelma ran her own beauty shop from her home.

“She was a small lady, not even five foot tall. She was pretty hard,” Donald said with a smile. “I have to say that because of the way she raised me. She was pretty hard.”

Donald and Vicki enjoyed going to school. They remember their teachers fondly.

"I remember Miss Mag Breyer, she used to like to eat my tuna fish sandwiches when my mother sent my lunch and it had tuna salad in it,” Vicki laughed.

“Mrs. Muxlow,” Donald recalled. “Her husband was the principal then. She was just so nice.”

On the weekends, Donald and Vicki said all the children would come together to play.

"I lived in a diverse neighborhood already, and I had white friends, even before I started going to the white school,” Donald said.

But when Monday morning came, under Kansas law, Donald and Vicki couldn’t go to school with them.

They made the trip to their separate, segregated elementary schools in Topeka — Donald at McKinley and Vicki at Buchanan.

“As we walked, we would pick up the other kids, and we would all walk together,” Vicki said.

Demanding to outlaw segregation in America’s public schools, Zelma and Maude stepped up as two of the thirteen plaintiffs to represent their children in a lawsuit: Brown versus the Board of Education.

“It was a secret. I mean, I had no idea,” Donald said. “I was too busy having fun, and she just let me, so I didn’t know a thing about it.”

"We were allowed to be children,” Vicki said. “I didn't know anything about what was going on.”

May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the plaintiffs, ruling separate but equal facilities are inherently unequal.

“It changed everything,” Vicki said.

Sixty-five years later, Donald and Vicki are living in a world forever changed by their mothers.

“She passed away in 2008, and she was talking about that then. How far we’ve come,” Donald said. “We’ve still got a long way to go, but we’ve come a long way. A long way.”

"This has traveled across the world, and opened up avenues and doorways, not just in education but for everything,” Vicki said.

A path paved by the plaintiffs of Brown v. Board.

“You have the opportunities. You need to take advantage of them. I mean, we didn’t have them back then like they do now. It’s out there for you, all you got to do is reach for it,” Donald said.

"I'm comfortable in my skin. I don't hate anybody,” Vicki said. “You have to learn to forgive. And you do continue to fight for truth and justice for everyone. You teach history, but if you teach it with bitterness and hatred, that's what you produce."