“The White Mrs. Brown”: Esther Brown and the Jewish Women of the Civil Rights Movement

Lecture Description

Esther Brown was the “guiding light” of the first school desegregation case in Kansas (Webb v. School board, 1948) which helped to convince the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund to pursue a second case in Topeka (Brown v. Board). For the Webb case Brown led a year long school strike, travelled the state to raise funds and incurred the wrath of her neighbors. After winning Webb v. School Board she moved to Topeka to work tirelessly on the Brown case. So instrumental was she–she located plaintiffs, found expert witnesses and handled the lion’s share of the logistics in the case–that Topekans took to calling her, affectionately, “the White Mrs. Brown.” This talk examines Brown’s deep roots in the Communist Party which trained her to become the organizer she was for school desegregation. It also examines the work of women activists across racial lines and their relationships to one another. It ends with a discussion of Jewish women’s significant contribution to the civil rights movement overall, and their differing inspirations for joining in struggles for social justice.


Civil Rights Jewish

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