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Esther Brown

Photograph of Esther Brown, 1948

Civil rights advocate.  Born: September 19, 1917, Kansas City, Missouri.  Died: May 24, 1970, Buffalo, New York.

Esther Swirk Brown, born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1917, was a Jewish civil rights advocate who helped fight unequal conditions in a Johnson County, Kansas, school district.

When the community of South Park built a new school, it denied access to African American students in the area. Nearby Walker School, designated for black children, was much inferior with dirt floors, no indoor restroom facilities, and limited classroom materials. There were no high schools for black children in Johnson County. When the discrepancies became apparent, black families started to protest the inferior educational facilities.

When Brown learned of the situation, she began to work with African American residents to look for options. She worked with the local NAACP chapter and helped to engage Elisha Scott, Sr., to represent the African American families in the legal case. Brown helped with fundraising for the case. Corinthian Nutter, one of the teachers at Walker School, began teaching students in her home as the case progressed. A lower court ruled that Walker School facilities were inferior and the Kansas Supreme Court upheld the decision on behalf of the plaintiffs in Webb v. School District No. 90 in 1949. As a result of the ruling, the African American children were allowed entrance to South Park Elementary.

Brown continued her involvement in civil rights activities in Wichita and Topeka. She went on to establish the Panel of American Women, which became a national movement. She died of cancer in 1970.

Entry: Brown, Esther

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: May 2009

Date Modified: January 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.