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Ideal Connections

Washburn Law has been training grounds for many fighting for civil rights

Brown vs Board of Education decision newspaper

From The Ichabod - Fall 2019

Washburn College President Norman Plass said during his 1902 inaugural address this was the “ideal place” for a law school. Topeka had the legal infrastructure to provide proper training and career opportunities.

Plass’ vision was realized a year later, and today, Washburn University School of Law remains the ideal place to impact the world through a legal education. The impact may best be seen in the roles Washburn-trained lawyers played in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case ultimately decided by the United States Supreme Court. Washburn hosted a celebration of the May 17, 1954, decision with a banquet on the 65th anniversary earlier this year.

Two prominent African-American Washburn graduates reflected on the case and their connections to people who paved the way for an end to segregation in public school education.

“When May 17 comes around, I typically think about the role Washburn lawyers played,” said Ambassador Delano Lewis, jd ’63, h ’00. “I think about my view of that case and its impact on my life in Kansas City, Kansas, the lifelong friendships I have had from those associated with the Brown case and then about Washburn itself.”

Delano LewisLewis was attending Sumner High School in Kansas City, Kansas, an African-American school and the only segregated high school in the state when Brown was decided. When he graduated two years later in 1956, there was one white student in his class.

“In high school, I decided maybe I’d like to pursue a career in the law,” said Lewis, who worked as an attorney in the Department of Justice and served as ambassador to South Africa from 1999-2001. “It was my intent to use the law to make changes in society, particularly those issues of discrimination based on race.”

Lewis attended the University of Kansas and then Washburn Law where he learned of and met persons who shaped his career. The Scott, Scott and Scott law firm with Elisha Scott, Sr., jd ’16, John Scott, ba ’42, jd ’47, and Charles Scott, ba ’48, jd ’48, along with Charles Bledsoe, who attended Washburn Law, represented the NACCP in filing the Brown v. Board case in Topeka. Lewis got to know the Scott family and he and John Scott later worked together in the federal government.

A partner in the firm, Samuel Jackson, ba ’51, jd ’54, became friends with Lewis. President Lyndon Johnson later appointed Jackson to be one of the first commissioners of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Jackson, in turn, asked Lewis to be on a task force to launch the EEOC. After 10 years as a federal attorney, Lewis worked in telecommunications in Washington, D.C., and in 1994, he became president and CEO of National Public Radio. President Bill Clinton nominated him ambassador to South Africa in 1999.

“It speaks a lot to Washburn and a lot to its graduates,” Lewis said of the connections to the Brown case. “All those relationships were helpful to my career.”

Another Washburn connection to the case was developing as a young man watched his aunt fight for justice prior to Brown v. Board. The Honorable Paul Brady, ba ’51, jd ’56, h ’04, observed his aunt, Lucinda Todd, fight the Topeka school board to provide her daughter music education. She was secretary of the Topeka NAACP, became one of 13 Brown plaintiffs and was on the leadership team that crafted the litigation.

Alumnus Paul Brady posing with wife and guests at BvB 65th anniversary celebration“When they would have the meetings in Aunt Cindy’s home, I recall how they used to pull down the blinds because people were driving by and watching and looking at those people who were coming in,” said Brady, who became the first African-American attorney in the Federal Power Commission and the first African-American federal administrative law judge. “Meeting with those lawyers, hearing them and their discussions, I was so impressed that I wanted to make the law my career.”

Graduating high school in Flint, Michigan, Brady was rejected from attending General Motors Institute, a technical school. There were few options for African-Americans there, so he came to Washburn.

“Had I gone on and taken a job as a janitor at General Motors after they wouldn’t allow me into the General Motors Institute, I would have been very bitter,” Brady said. “It was so important for me to show that, given the opportunity, a black man can do the same thing a white man can do. My whole life was that way.”

Washburn Law recognized Brady during the Brown v. Board 65th anniversary celebration in May.

“Having Judge Brady and his wife, Xernona Clayton, visit campus was an amazing experience,” said Carla Pratt, dean, Washburn Law. “Judge Brady and Ambassador Lewis are perfect examples of what people can achieve when given equal opportunities in education. I would not be where I am now if not for the role Topeka has played in civil rights history, and I’m proud Washburn graduates have been a part of it.”

The Scott and Bledsoe Legacy

Washburn has a unique connection to the Brown v. Board of Education decision that ended segregation in public schools in America. Washburn Law educated three lawyers involved in bringing Brown to the United States District Court of Kansas. John Scott, Charles Scott and Charles Bledsoe recruited the 13 plaintiffs involved in the case.

Watch Dean Carla Pratt speak about Washburn Law's close connection to the case, and alumnus the Honorable Paul Brady speaks about being in the home of his aunt, Lucinda Todd, a Brown plaintiff who helped the lawyers built their case.


The Ichabod magazine spring 2021

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2021 spring edition online and look for it in mailboxes in May.

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