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The namesake of "Brown vs. Board of Education" celebrated as a common man who helped achieve extraordinary change

Drury University commemorates what would have been 100 th Reverend Oliver Brown's birthday

SPRINGFIELD, Mo., August 19, 2018 – The importance of civil rights in the daily life of the Americans and the power of ordinary people to make extraordinary changes were the themes of Drury University and the Springfield community. marked 100 th birthday of the late Reverend Oliver Brown on Sunday.

Brown is best known as the namesake of the historic 1954 Supreme Court decision that ends racial legal segregation in American schools. He joined an assembly of parents who would eventually become plaintiffs because of Topeka NAACP's legal challenge to segregated public schools. The case was finally named for him: Oliver L. Brown et. Alabama. vs. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, et. .

He moved his wife, Leola, and their three daughters to Springfield in 1959 to pastor Benton Avenue A.M.E. Church. Drury University now owns the church building and planned the Sunday celebration as a way to honor the church, its congregation and Reverend Brown and his family.

Cheryl Brown Henderson, the youngest of Brown's three daughters, was guest of honor and speaker at the event. She told the crowd of more than 250 people gathered at Central High School, where her older sister Linda graduated in 1961, that her parents were ordinary people who simply sought to ensure a greater opportunity for the next generation.

"No one could have told them what was about to happen: a simple knock on the door," he said, referring to the invitation to join the NAACP lawsuit.

He extended his family's story in clear terms to the students in the audience: "If you do not write your story, young people, someone else will." In a powerful call to continue the work of the civil rights movement and to be civically engaged, she told them: "It is your turn to add your voices."

Drury President Dr. Tim Cloyd, himself the son of a Methodist minister, praised Brown and his wife Leola for "standing up".

They joined the demand, he noted, not because their children received a poor education in a completely black school, but because of the color of their skin "they were told where they had to go to school and what I had to do. a matter of justice and decency. "

Cloyd also acknowledged that, in many ways, our nation has not yet lived up to the ideals set forth in the decision Brown .

"We have a long way to go to get to a place where we can all join hands, look each other in the eye and see ourselves, and unite with our common hopes for our families and our children," he said. "We have a long way to go to affirm each other in our common humanity and dignity, regardless of the color of our skin, our creed, our faith, our sex or our socio-economic class."

Additional speakers included Georgia Burton, a member of the Benton Avenue Church for a long time, and former councilman Denny Whayne, who worked with Brown on civil rights issues at the local level. Reflecting on what Missouri's third largest city was like during the civil rights era, Whayne said that Brown "was instrumental in lighting many light bulbs here in Springfield."

Brown Henderson thanked Drury and the Springfield community for the commemoration. She said that events such as Sunday's celebration are important reminders that rights are not necessarily guaranteed in perpetuity. Democracy, he said, is not a spectator sport.

"Democracy is messy," he said. "And that means that when we get a call, we take a position."


Media Contact: Mike Brothers, Executive Director of University Relations: (417) 873-7390 or

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