The Remarkable Honorees of Power to Inspire 2024 

The National Center for Civil and Human Rights (NCCHR) will present its annual Power to Inspire fundraising experience, recognizing individuals who were on the front lines of integrating their schools following the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka decision. From their remarkable achievements to their unwavering commitment to making a difference, each honoree has a unique story that truly resonates with the spirit of Brown v. Board of Education. Read on to learn more about these inspirational figures and their profound impact on the forward movement of equity in education.


Joan Anderson HEADSHOT e1712075285686Joan Anderson was one of the plaintiffs in the Delaware case consolidated into Brown v. Board of Education. Joan’s parents advocated for integration so their children could attend Claymont High School. This case became the first court-mandated integration of a public school in the United States and the basis for how integration could work in Brown v. Board. Joan graduated from Claymont High School. She attended Fisk University and Boston University, graduating in 1960. Joan is currently a writer and motivational speaker.


Adrienne Jennings Bennett Photo1 scaled e1712074885628Adrienne J. Bennett and her family advocated for desegregated schools in their local Washington, D.C. community, led by her parents’ participation in the Consolidated Parents Group. In 1952, Adrienne, her father, and her sister Barbara were named as plaintiffs with six others in the Bolling v. Sharpe case. This case was combined with four other cases that formed Brown v. Board. Adrienne graduated from Spingarn High School in Washington, D.C. She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and proudly taught second and third grade for 31 years in the District of Columbia Public School system.


Victoria LawtonVictoria Lawton Benson is a passionate civil rights spokesperson. Victoria and her sister, Carol Kay Lawton, became child plaintiffs in Brown v. Board when her mother, Maude E. Lawton, grew tired of traveling to the all-Black Buchanan Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas. The white school, Lowman Elementary, sat one block from the Lawton’s home. Maude was one of the original 13 plaintiffs from Topeka. Victoria was six years old when her family joined the case, but her mother’s determination made a lifelong impression. Victoria became the first Black American to graduate from beauty school in Topeka. She has been the creative force behind the Black women-owned hairstyling business, Victoria’s Salon, for more than six decades. 


Ruby Bridges e1712075450863Ruby Bridges is a civil rights icon, activist, author, and speaker who, at age six, was the first Black student to integrate an all-white elementary school in Louisiana. She was born in Mississippi in 1954, the same year the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Brown v. Board. Ruby’s family later moved to New Orleans, where, on November 14, 1960, she began attending William Frantz Elementary School. Later, she established the Ruby Bridges Foundation to provide leadership training programs that inspire youth and community leaders to embrace and value the richness of diversity. 


Nathaniel Briggs Headshot e1712075411527Nathanial Briggs’ parents were the first petitioners responsible for the genesis of the Briggs v. Elliott school desegregation case in Clarendon County, South Carolina. The Briggs case was the first legal challenge to the “separate but equal” doctrine in the United States and was later consolidated into Brown v. Board. Nathaniel attended a segregated school in South Carolina through the sixth grade. Due to their participation in school desegregation, Nathaniel’s family faced harassment and was forced to move to Miami and later to New York City, where Nathaniel completed his education. Nathanial devoted his life to service. He was drafted into the Army in 1968 and served in the New Jersey National Guard for 13 years.


Cheryl Brown HendersonDr. Cheryl Brown Henderson is one of three children of the late Rev. Oliver L. Brown, namesake of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision. Her sister, Linda Brown, was one of the students represented in the case. Cheryl has been a leader for equity in education, using her background in educational administration, business, public relations, civic leadership, public policy, and federal legislative development to carry on her father’s legacy. She is the founding president of The Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research and the owner of the Brown & Associates educational consulting firm. 


Minnijean Brown Trickey headshot scaled e1712075349744Minnijean Brown-Trickey was 16 years old when she became one of the Little Rock Nine, a group of African American students who, with protection from federal troops, first integrated the city’s high school in 1957. Despite facing verbal and physical abuse on campus, Minnijean knew the power of showing up for school each day. She continued at Central High until she was expelled for standing up to the torment she faced from a group of white students. She later moved to Canada and earned a bachelor’s degree from Laurentian University and a master’s degree from Carleton University. Minnijean returned to the United States and later served in the Clinton administration as deputy assistant secretary for workforce diversity at the U.S. Department of the Interior, one of many leadership roles throughout her career. 


Bill Campbell e1712075519701

William (Bill) Campbell, at age seven, became the first Black student to integrate public schools in North Carolina in 1960. He was the victim of bullying and harassment at Murphey School in Raleigh, and his family often received bomb threats, forcing them to leave their home frequently. Bill was the only Black student at Murphey for five years. He graduated cum laude from Vanderbilt University and finished his education at Duke Law School. After graduating, Bill joined a law firm in Atlanta and served on the Atlanta City Council for 12 years before being elected the city’s 57th mayor in 1993. His focus on public housing reform led Atlanta to a remarkable renaissance, heralding a population and building growth that continues today. 


Linda Florence Clonts 1 2 e1712589139688Linda Florence Clonts grew up in Powder Springs, Georgia, and attended Lemon Street High School. In 1965, during her junior year, Linda became one of the pioneering Black students selected for desegregation. Bused to McEachern High School, Linda faced hostility and discrimination, enduring hurtful slurs and acts of cruelty. She found derogatory remarks pinned to her back and her locker vandalized. The toll of these challenges led Linda to leave school after her junior year. Linda’s story is a testament to her resilience and determination to create a better life for herself and her loved ones.


Joan Marie Johns Cobbs e1712075201249

Joan Marie Johns Cobbs was 13 in 1951 when she joined her sister, Barbara Johns, and other students protesting the poor conditions of their segregated Black school, Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia. Joan became a plaintiff in Davis v. County Board of Supervisors of Prince Edward County, Virginia, one of five cases consolidated under Brown v. Board. After graduating from high school, Joan attended Howard University. She later worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and attended its graduate program.  


Duane Fleming e1712075139202Duane Fleming and his family were among the families in Kansas represented in Brown v. Board. Before the Court’s decision, Duane could not attend Lafayette Elementary, an all-white school two blocks from his Topeka home. Despite attending segregated schools, Duane often played with the white children in his neighborhood. As part of the Brown v. Board case, Duane’s father, Silas Hardrick Fleming, provided powerful testimony about the importance of desegregation. “Not only I and my children are craving light,” he testified. “The entire colored race is craving light, and the only way to reach the light is to start our children together in their infancy and they come up together.” After the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Duane attended Lafayette Elementary.


James Meredith e1712076511341James Meredith is an author and activist who dedicated his life to ensuring equal treatment for African Americans. In 1961, James applied to the all-white University of Mississippi after serving in the U.S. Air Force. His application was accepted but later withdrawn when the registrar discovered his race. Since all public educational institutions had been ordered to desegregate, James filed a suit alleging discrimination against the university. The district court ruled against him, and James appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor. On October 1, 1962, he became the first Black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi. James continued to advocate for civil rights, leading a one-man Walk Against Fear supported by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Stokely Carmichael.


Deborah Richardson e1712074981624Deborah Richardson’s interest in civil rights advocacy began as a young child in Atlanta. For the first 14 years of her life, her community included adults who were professionals, everyday people, and foot soldiers of the civil rights movement. Her engagement began when her parents “volunteered” her to be among the first Black students to desegregate Atlanta Public Schools. Deborah’s academic experience changed dramatically after leaving her neighborhood school. Deborah’s parents instilled in her the understanding that her struggle was about something bigger than herself, which set the foundation for Deborah’s philosophy on activism throughout her life. Deborah has served in several leadership positions advocating for civil and human rights. She is currently the executive director of ACLU Colorado. 


Dr. Leona Tate e1712075078589Dr. Leona Tate was one of four six-year-old girls in New Orleans who integrated white-only public elementary schools after the Brown v. Board ruling. On November 14, 1960, Leona, Gail Etienne, and Tessie Prevost enrolled in McDonogh 19 Elementary School in the Historic Ninth Ward. A fourth girl, Ruby Bridges, began classes at William Frantz Elementary School on the same day. Federal marshals escorted the New Orleans Four to their schools. In 2009, Leona established the Leona Tate Foundation for Change, Inc. to purchase McDonogh 19 Elementary School. Today, she and her partners have renovated the historic campus, which reopened as the Tate, Etienne, and Prevost (TEP) Center in May 2022. 


Join us for an evening celebrating this year’s Power to Inspire honorees! It will be an uplifting time of fellowship, food, and fun while supporting our operations and community programming. PTI takes place on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, at The Eastern. Purchase your tickets today!