Monroe Elementary School in Topeka Kansas is physically bigger than most people consider when they envision an elementary school. It’s two stories tall and has 13 classrooms as well as a gym and cafeteria, among other features.
But it’s fitting that Monroe Elementary is such a big building. It has a big story to tell, a big slice of history with a global impact.
This post contains affiliate links. To learn more, read our DISCLAIMER here.
How Monroe Elementary Changed Education
When it opened in 1927, Monroe Elementary was one of four schools for black children in Topeka, the state capital. It had some physical amenities that most black schools in the country didn’t have at the time, such as indoor plumbing. Yet Monroe Elementary was not comparable in educational opportunities to the all-white schools in town.
On top of that, it was a long 21 blocks from where 8-year-old Linda Brown lived. There was a better equipped white school just seven blocks away. So her parents joined 13 other families in suing for right to attend the better school closer to home.
The Brown family was no different than all of the other families. But simply because of alphabetic priority, we now remember the Browns for the landmark Supreme Court case “Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education.” This is the law that, in 1954, desegregated public schools and forever changed education in the United States.
The Kansas case was one of five cases working their way through the federal court system representing 150 plaintiffs. Brown vs Topeka Board of Education was the first one to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
And of course, it turned the country upside down for a while. At Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas, President Dwight Eisenhower had to send in the 101st Airborne to restore order and protect the nine black children who integrated that school. The 101st Airborne. Those are the same guys who just 10 years earlier General Eisenhower sent to Normandy to help liberate all of Europe. Yes, it was that tough.
Today, Little Rock’s Central High School is a National Historic Site. So is Monroe Elementary School in Topeka Kansas.
Global Impact of Brown vs Board of Education
Brown vs Board of Education was the launching point for the U.S. Civil Rights movement that changed so many laws and educational provisions in this country. Discriminated and marginalized people around the world have looked to this period of U.S. history for inspiration and direction in their struggle for equality. When South Africa rewrote its constitution, education was included as a basic human right.
One of the key legacies of the Brown decision is the inspiration Nelson Mandela received from the “concerted and peaceful action by ordinary men and women” to change society for good.