Civil Rights Activist’s 100th Birthday Celebrated in Springfield

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo.–Did you know one of the contributors to Brown vs. The Board of Education lived in Springfield for two years? 

The late Rev. Oliver Brown-pastor of Benton Avenue A.M.E. Church was a part of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 landmark decision to end racial segregation in schools. 

Brown would have turned 100-years-old on Sunday, August 19th. 

Drury University hosted the celebration at Central High because Rev. Brown’s late daughter, Linda Brown graduated from the school in 1961.

Linda was one of many black students who Rev. Brown and so many others fought for to integrate American schools. 

“My father did not set out to make history,” says Rev. Brown’s daughter, Cheryl Brown Henderson. 

But, make history he did and it’s his monumental past why dozens of people including his daughter, Cheryl Brown Henderson filled Central High school to remember him on his 100th birthday.

 “This program today means probably more than I can express in that we all leave a legacy and it just so happens that our family legacy you know led by dad is a legacy that’s touched everybody’s life,” says Henderson Brown. 

It’s a legacy that started in 1954 with Brown vs. The Board of Education and continued in 1959. 1959 is the year when Rev. Brown moved his family from Topeka, Kansas to Springfield to become the pastor of Benton Avenue A.M.E Church.

“Coming here to Springfield, he really stepped out front and became more of an actual civil rights leader in organizing with other churches, with marches, and bringing different things to the attention of public officials,” says Henderson Brown. 

A reflection of the improved race relations was seen at his very own birthday celebration. White students sitting beside black students; paying homage to the man that helped make it happen.

“He was an icon here in Springfield during the short period that he was here. Brown vs. Board of Education, that was a national transition for our country,” says Charlotte Hardin of the Brown Celebration Committee.

As humble as Rev. Brown was, icon isn’t how his daughter, Cheryl says he would want to be remembered.

 “He would look at himself as one of the army of civil rights activists that it’s taken to bring this country as far along as it’s come,” says Henderson Brown.

Benton Avenue A.M.E. Church where Rev. Brown preached ceased operation in 2013.

It was bought by Drury University in 2014 and was deconsecrated this year.

The building will be used to honor the history and culture of the church including its ties to Rev. Brown.

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