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Honoring the Legacy

Donors provide for Brown v. Board remembrance in new law building

Topeka State Journal

Washburn Lawyer - Fall 2020/Winter 2021

Surprisingly few people know about Washburn University School of Law’s connection to one of the most significant court cases in U.S. history. In 1951, three African-American Washburn graduates – Elisha Scott, 1916, Charles Scott, ’48, and John Scott, ’47 in addition to Charles Bledsoe – filed Brown v. Topeka Board of Education in the U.S. District Court of Kansas. Working with the local chapter of NAACP, the attorneys found 13 families willing to challenge racial segregation at elementary schools in Topeka.

“It’s one of those iconic, historic cases that everybody knows about, and it all started because of three Washburn attorneys,” said Carla Pratt, Washburn University School of Law dean. “As a school we take great pride in that – and that’s the part of the story that doesn’t get told.”

By recruiting psychologists and social scientists to testify about the psychological harm of segregation, the attorneys crafted a unique and compelling case that ultimately led to the U.S. Supreme Court declaring segregation unconstitutional in 1954. The ruling proved vital in encouraging a more equal education for children across the country. Pratt wants more people to know about Washburn’s important role in the civil rights movement.

“I would like some part of the new law school building to memorialize Washburn’s relationship to the lawyers who had the courage to challenge the injustice of the rule of law in Plessy v. Ferguson by filing the case of Brown v. Board of Education,” Pratt said. “I think it’s important that
anyone who visits our new building can see our connection to the most significant case of the 20th century. I was a constitutional law professor before coming to Washburn and taught Brown v. Board every year, yet I did not know Washburn was the school that prepared the plaintiffs’ lawyers to dismantle racial apartheid in public schools. I think it’s a pride point that we should highlight so that more people know this history.”

The campaign to commemorate the plaintiffs’ lawyers in Brown v. Board in the new law school building has attracted several donors who are eager to underscore the institution’s historic role in this groundbreaking case and share the stories of Scott, Scott and Bledsoe with future generations.

Mark and Shanelle DupreeMark, ’07, and Shanelle,’07, Dupree decided to give as soon as they heard about the project from Pratt. The Duprees started dating and got married while they were still law students – and for several years, they owned and operated a firm together. Today, Mark is the first African-American district attorney in Wyandotte County, Kansas, while Shanelle serves as regional director of the Kansas Department for Children and Families.

Both Mark and Shanelle are grateful they received their legal education at Washburn – and they each have a personal connection to the school’s Brown v. Board efforts as well. In 2011, Shanelle worked as Washburn Law’s diversity coordinator, and she aimed to incorporate the history of the case into the school’s culture.

“We found out we weren’t doing enough to highlight the very rich history of Brown v. Board and its connection to Washburn. I worked with the deans to incorporate a yearly visit to the Topeka-based Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site into the first-year law student experience,” Shanelle said. “For me, that was important, and to see the law school making even more of an effort to highlight the history of this landmark case – that’s something I want our family to always remain connected with.”

While Mark was a law student, he met Paul Brady, BA '51, JD '56, H '04, the first African-American federal administrative judge in the country. When Brady came to Topeka for a speaking engagement, the law school dean asked Mark to drive him around. On their car ride, they passed Brady’s aunt’s house, which is where all of the attorneys – including Thurgood Marshall – prepared for the Brown v. Board case.

“As a young man, Judge Brady was able to see these attorneys fighting for justice and studying in the basement of his aunt’s Topeka home,” Mark said. “This showed me that Brown v. Board was not just something that should be talked about, but in essence it was and is something that we continue to live and that we should pass on to expose young people to what can be.”

Linda JeffreyLinda Jeffrey,’77, also had personal reasons for donating to the project – as a child growing up in the 50s, her older sister attended segregated schools. Jeffrey retired in 2001 after serving as Topeka city attorney for nearly a decade, a role that she considered an honor. She was excited to give to the law school’s Brown v. Board project to acknowledge the three Washburn-educated attorneys who decided to take a risk.

“I think it’s easy to forget that at some point in time, individuals had to take a risk for the good of all citizens and all people,” Jeffrey said. “Younger generations take for granted that their kids can go to school with all people regardless of their race, ethnicity or gender. I was inspired that Washburn was going to recognize this so we don’t forget. It’s a privilege to be able to support the law school in something that needs to be done.”

Thank you to the project donors:
  • The Hon. Gwynne Harris Birzer
  • Mark and Shanelle Dupree
  • Linda Jeffrey
  • Ambassador Delano Lewis
  • Joyce McCray Pearson
  • Dean Carla Pratt
  • Dr. Giorgio Ra'Shadd
  • Denelle Waynick

Washburn Law Honor Roll

Honor Roll 
See the honor roll of donors from July 1, 2019
to June 30, 2020. Read more.

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