A Kansas law permitted cities with populations of more than 15,000 to maintain separate public schools for African American and white students. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, maintained segregated elementary schools, but other schools in the district were not segregated. Linda Brown, an African American third grader, and her family lived in Topeka, and there was an elementary school just five blocks from their home. However, that school was reserved for white children only, and Linda had to ride a bus to a school 21 blocks from her home that was reserved for African American children only. In 1951, Linda’s parents joined with the parents of some other African American children and brought suit against the Topeka Board of Education in a U. S. District Court. Thurgood Marshall, an attorney from the NAACP, represented the African American parents. Marshall argued that the African American and white schools were not equal in a number of ways, but more than that, he argued that segregated schools were harmful to African American children. A three-judge U. S. District Court agreed that racially segregated public schools had a detrimental effect on African American children. The court, nevertheless, declined to order the desegregation of the public schools because in its opinion the schools were substantially equal, and that was all that was required by the nation’s law at that time.
Class action suits were filed at the same time as Brown in three other states — South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware. In all three states, African American children were compelled by state law to attend racially segregated public schools. The Kansas case and the cases from the other three states were consolidated and appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court where they were argued and decided together.