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May 21, 2004 - Image 68

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-05-21

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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MATTHEW E. BERGER
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
Washin on
sther Swirk Brown wasn't the
Brown for whom the land-
mark U.S. Supreme Court
case desegregating schools is
named — but she is the Jewish woman
who helped find Oliver Brown, of no
relation, to be the lead plaintiff in the
historic case.
As a young woman in Kansas, Esther
Brown was horrified by the conditions
at the school that black children,
including the children of her house-
keeper, were forced to attend. The one-
room schoolhouse in South Park had
dilapidated walls and missing light
bulbs.
"She went to a school board meeting
to press for equal education and was
told to go home and mind her own
business," said Miriam Katz, who
impersonates Brown as part of a one-
woman show honoring historic
American women that is touring the
Midwest.
Instead, Esther Brown stopped black
children from attending the school,
choosing to home school them in her
own house and getting friends to serve
as other teachers.
When she took her fight statewide to
Topeka, she met Linda Brown, a young
girl, and raised money so that Linda
Brown's father, Oliver, could sue the
city's board of education.
"She just wanted rights for every-
body," Katz said. "Maybe she felt like
she had to make things right."

The Jewish Slant

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Fifty years after integration case, Jews remember
their crucial role.

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As the nation marks the 50th anniver-
sary of the Supreme Court decision in
Brown vs. Board of Education, which
changed the face of the civil rights
fight, Jews are noting the historic role
their community played in pushing the
movement forward.
"It was disproportionately black and
Jewish lawyers that were fighting the
civil rights cases," said David
Saperstein, director of the Religious
Action Center for Reform Judaism and
a board member of the National
Association for the Advancement of

Related commentary: page 73

SATURDAY
1 0-5

REASONABLE PRIG.
Y

NoTH

(34 n50

Colored People.
Charles Black, a member of the
NAACP Legal Defense Fund team that
argued Brown, used to joke that he was
the only non-Jewish name on many of
the briefs in that case.
Several Jewish groups are marking
the anniversary and the Jewish commu-
nity's participation in the landmark
case.
The Anti-Defamation League has
created a six-part educational program
for schools on Brown's legacy, including
a section on key alliances, which tells
the story of Esther Brown.
And at its annual Washington meet-
ing the week before last, the American
Jewish Committee showcased a video
about the group's role in the civil rights
movement. It featured several television
advertisements AJCommittee funded to
promote tolerance.
A predominantly liberal community,
Jews felt empathy for the plight of
black Americans.
"In the fight for the rights of African
Americans, Jews were also in a fight for
the rights of all minorities in America,"
Saperstein said. "There was implicit -
recognition that Jews wouldn't be safe
in America until they created a country
with no room for discrimination."
Jewish -organizations lent their name
to the civil rights cause, filing amicus
briefs for the plaintiffs and funding
some of the legal efforts. In fact, the
AJCommittee funded research by
Kenneth Clark on the effects of preju-
dice and discrimination on personality
development that Chief Justice Earl
Warren cited in his unanimous
Supreme Court decision handed down
on May 17, 1954.

Liberal Leanings

Many individual Jews, like Esther
Brown, were part of the effort as well
— perhaps none more than Jack
Greenberg. As an associate counsel for
the NAACP Legal Defense Fund,
Greenberg was one of several who
argued Brown vs. Board of Education in
front of the Supreme Court. He later
succeeded Thurgood Marshall as the
fund's director and counsel for more
than 20 years.
"Being Jewish can lead you in any
direction," said Greenberg, now a pro-

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