The last surviving Topeka, Kan., plaintiff in the historic Brown v. Board of Education case has died at 88. Zelma Henderson died May 20 in Topeka, of pancreatic cancer.
In 1950, she joined on behalf of her children the litigation challenging Topeka’s racially segregated schools. In all, 13 black parents took part in the federal court case.
The plaintiffs lost in U.S. District Court, but the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, along with similar cases from Virginia, South Carolina, and Delaware. They were consolidated by the court as Brown v. Board.
The high court’s unanimous ruling overturning school segregation came on May 17, 1954. It outlawed the “separate but equal” doctrine.
While Ms. Henderson was the last surviving Topeka plaintiff, some plaintiffs from other states whose cases were consolidated into Brown are still living.
A version of this article appeared in the June 04, 2008 edition of Education Week