Common Justice Sculpture

Brown Sites in Topeka


In 1954, three Washburn Law School graduates represented the plaintiffs in the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Out of that case came the decision that 'in the field of public instruction, the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place.' This message appears at the base of a sculpture in the Washburn Law School that was dedicated in 1984 to commemorate this historic case that ruled school segregation unconstitutional. 

The idea for the sculpture originated in 1975 during planning for Topeka's celebration of the nation's Bicentennial. It was suggested initially that a plaque commemorating the landmark Brown decision be created and placed in a prominent public location in Topeka. In the fall of 1976, an ad hoc committee was formed at Washburn and interested Topekans were invited to join the committee. Out of that invitation grew an honorary committee consisting not only of Topekans, but of prominent national figures as well.

The ad hoc committee decided to raise funds for a sculpture instead of a plaque. It was agreed the sculpture would be placed on Washburn's campus in the vicinity of the Law School. Fundraising efforts continued for the next eight years. They included: a reception in Washington, D.C., sponsored by Washburn alumni chaired by Samuel Jackson; a jazz concert in White Concert Hall at Washburn featuring the notable jazz pianist Jay MacShann and his combo; and a solicitation by mail for funds across the United States.

When fundraising was finished and the sculpture was completed, a dedicatory program was held in White Concert Hall on May 17, 1984, the 40th anniversary of the Brown decision. Honored guests at the dedication included the plaintiffs in the Brown case, Charles Scott Sr., one of the lawyers in the case and Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., who gave the commemorative address. A symposium on the Brown decision and school desegregation was held the next day in the Robinson Courtroom at the Law School.

The sculpture is the creation of two well-known Topeka artists. John Tarlton designed the sculpture of welded bronze, which then was fabricated by sculptor Jim Bass. Their combined efforts resulted in a dignified, permanent symbol of the Brown case, gracing the main lobby of the Washburn Law School.

The sculpture, entitled Common Justice, is designed from bronze, wood and steel. Two angular, bronze columns extending upward represent the concept of equality. The two columns separate at the base and are of different shapes, symbolizing the fallacy of 'separate but equal.' Upon close examination, the design is suggestive of Kansas textures resembling wheat and various grasses. The two columns are angled differently at the top, each having a unique slant. The upward thrust and the space between the columns are suggestive of the struggle for national unity.

The sculpture sits atop a base of walnut logged near Osawatomie and the Marais de Cynges River. In Kansas history, some of John Brown's efforts toward freeing the slaves took place in this part of the state.

The Brown decision commemorative sculpture provides the American people with a challenge to continue to educate for life in a literate, multi-cultural society.

On February 28, 1951, a complaint was filed in the United States District Court of Kansas in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The individuals who took these historic steps toward common justice were:
Parents: Mr. Oliver Brown, Mrs. Darlene Brown, Mrs. Lena Carper, Mrs. Sadie Emmanuel, Mrs. Marguerite Emmerson, Mrs. Shirley Fleming, Mrs. Zelma Henderson, Mrs. Shirley Hodison, Mrs. Maude Lawton, Mrs. Alma Lewis, Mrs. Iona Richardson, Mrs. Vivian Scales, Mrs. Lucinda Todd.

School Children: Linda Carol Brown, Saundria Dorstella Brown, Katherine Louise Carper, James Meldon Emmanuel, Sadie Emmanuel, Claude Arthur Emmerson, George Robert Emmerson, Duane Dean Fleming, Silas Hardrick Fleming, Donald Andrew Henderson, Vicki Ann Henderson, Charles Hodison Jr., Victoria Jean Lawton, Carol Kay Lawton, Theron Lewis, Martha Jan Lewis, Arthur Lewis, Francis Lewis, Ronald Douglas Richardson, Ruth Ann Scales, Nancy Jane Todd.

Counsel for Plaintiffs: Charles E. Bledsoe, Washburn Law School, Class of 1937; John Scott, Washburn Law School, Class of 1947; Charles Scott, Washburn Law School, Class of 1948; Elisha Scott, Washburn Law School, Class of 1916. 

Members of the Ad Hoc Committee
Jim Hunt, Chair; Chair of the Art Department, Washburn University
Dr. Julia Etta Parks, Secretary; Professor, Department of Education, Washburn University
Dwight Deay, Director of Information Services, Washburn University
Roger Franzke, Vice President-Marketing and Advertisement
The Honorable Clarence Love, State Representative, Kansas City
The Honorable Kenneth Marshall, State Representative, Topeka
The Honorable William McCray, State Senator, Wichita
The Honorable Sherman A. Parks, Judge, Kansas Court of Appeals
John Reed, Director, Kansas Arts Commission
Lt. Col. William Richards, Rtd. Dir. of Social Serv., Kansas Dept. of Social and Rehab. Serv.
Charles Scott, Sr., Attorney and co-counsel for the plaintiffs in Brown case

Honorary Committee
Dr. John Henderson, President, Washburn University
Samuel Jackson, Attorney, Washington, D.C.
Dr. Roy Menninger, Director, Menninger Foundation
The Honorable Robert Dole, U.S. Senator, Kansas
The Reverend Theodore Hesburgh, President, Notre Dame University
The Honorable Edward Brooke, U.S. Senator, Massachusetts
Dr. Carl Rowan, Journalist, Washington, D.C.
The Honorable Martha Keys, U.S. Representative, Kansas
The Honorable James Pearson, U.S. Senator, Kansas
Dr. Kenneth Clark, Educator and Psychologist
Raymond L. Spring, Dean, Washburn School of Law
Dorothy Height, President, National Council of Negro Women

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