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  American HistoryUnited States: General History and DescriptionAfro-Americans
McKinley BurnettMcKinley Langford Burnett

the driving force behind the Topeka chapter of the NAACP's decision to challenge school segregation by taking the Topeka Board of Education to court

McKinley Langford Burnett was born in Oskaloosa, Kansas, on May 17, 1897. While growing up, he encountered many acts of discrimination due to his skin color. In school, he was not allowed to participate in plays unless he played a dancer, butler, or other "color appropriate" role. He also faced discrimination as a soldier in the Army and as a supply clerk for the Veterans Administration. As an adult, he wrote many letters to various officials at all levels of government, including the President of the United States, about the injustices he saw.

In 1948, Burnett became president of the Topeka chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and almost immediately began focusing on integrating Topeka schools. For two years, Burnett held meetings and wrote letters, trying to persuade the Topeka School Board to end school desegregation, but the Board refused. In 1950 he warned the Board that if they didn't end segregation, the NAACP would go to court. The board ignored the threat, and the NAACP, under Burnett's leadership, recruited thirteen black families to challenge segregation by sending their children to enroll in white schools. The 20 children, including seven-year-old Linda Brown, were denied enrollment, and in February 1951, the NAACP filed suit.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas heard the case June 25-26, 1951, and ultimately ruled in favor of the Topeka Board of Education. The Topeka NAACP filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on October 1, 1951, and the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case was combined with cases from South Carolina, Virginia, District of Columbia, and Delaware into the single case Brown v. Board of Education. It took three years for the case to be decided, and Burnett was in the courtoom for every public session of argument, questions, debates, and hearings. On May 17, 1954, the Court ruled in favor of the NAACP.

     Burnett continued to serve as President of the Topeka NAACP chapter until 1963, and died in 1968.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
Brown v. Board of Education

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This page was last updated on 02/13/2015.

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