A Pair Of Ordinary Women Who Left Extraordinary Legacies

It is with considerable sadness we note the recent passing of Linda Brown Thompson and Lula Taylor.

Both were trailblazers in their own unique and inimitable ways; Brown Thompson and her sister, Cheryl Brown Henderson, were the lead plaintiffs in the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education (1954) while Taylor was a political trailblazer in Chautauqua County and New York state. Lula Taylor was the first woman chairperson of the Jamestown Democratic Committee, and then became the first African-American woman in New York state to hold a county legislative seat, serving for 14 years. Brown Thompson visited the area in 2004 as part of a series of speaking engagements with her sister, Cheryl Brown Henderson, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education case.

Re-reading our coverage of Brown Thompson and Taylor earlier this week, it became quite clear that neither woman thought the difficult work of attaining racial equality had been achieved despite the gains they had witnessed. Brown Thompson’s defining act isn’t her name on a notable court case. Her defining act is that she continued fighting for the ideals in Brown v. Board late into her adult life. Brown Thompson worked with children as a Head Start teacher and helped establish four libraries for pre-school children, according to the Topeka Capitol-Journal. She was a pianist who provided private music lessons. She continued fighting school segretation into the 1970s as a plaintiff in a resurrected version of Brown v. Board of Education that argued the school district had not followed through with desegregation. The case didn’t reach the Supreme Court, but it did force a desegration plan to be approved by the Topeka Unified School District 501 in 1993. Brown Thompson knew full well there was more work to be done.

“There is still de facto segregation throughout the United States,” she told the crowd at Chautauqua Institution. “The problem does not end in the fact that schools are not equal in their physical makeup, but the problem lies in the physical makeup in the inner city.”

Brown Thompson fought for opportunities. Lula Taylor seized them after she and her husband Vivian moved from South Carolina to Jamestown. The Taylors secured good jobs, volunteered with countless philanthropic and historic preservation efforts and chose to be politically active in our county in ways that weren’t possible in the South at the time. To be fair, Lula Taylor’s type of political activity hadn’t been seen in Jamestown, either. It is striking, then, that in 2008 Lula Taylor didn’t talk about the past as she watched election results stream in for President Barack Obama. She talked about the generations to come.

“Look at what has been accomplished,” she told The Post-Journal on Nov. 4, 2008. “Look at how far we as a nation have come. Even if Barack Obama hadn’t become our next president, something special has happened. The younger folks have a reason to hope. They’ve got someone to look up to. They’ve got someone to show them what’s possible.”

The paths of Linda Brown Thompson and Lula Taylor probably didn’t cross that often. That’s unfortunate, because they leave similar legacies in their respective communities. Linda Brown Thompson and Lula Taylor were ordinary women who fought for what was right. In doing so, two ordinary women ended up living extraordinary lives. Could there be a better legacy to leave future generations?

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