The girl whose case ended segregation in America’s public schools has died.
Linda Brown’s family was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit against the segregated schools of Topeka, Kansas. That case eventually became the landmark 1954 case Brown vs. the Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court outlawed segregation in public schools as “inherently unequal.”
Ms. Brown was 76.
“Linda Brown is one of that special band of heroic young people who, along with her family, courageously fought to end the ultimate symbol of white supremacy — racial segregation in public schools. She stands as an example of how ordinary schoolchildren took center stage in transforming this country,” Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel at NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement Monday.
The death was confirmed to the Topeka Capital-Journal on Monday by Ms. Brown’s sister Cheryl Brown Henderson.
She told the Capital-Journal that the family will have no further comment.
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The Capital-Journal reported that funeral arrangements will be handled by Peaceful Rest Funeral Chapel of Topeka.
The Brown case, first filed in 1951 by her father Oliver on behalf of 9-year-old Linda, was argued by Thurgood Marshall when he was an NAACP lawyer, before his appointment as the first black member of that bench.
The 9-0 decision — Chief Justice Earl Warren thought it important that the court speak unanimously on such a hot-button issue — was one of the biggest victories the civil-rights movement achieved, and its logic eventually spread to institutions beyond public schools.
“Does segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other ‘tangible’ factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does,” Chief Justice Warren wrote, explaining that “the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group.”
By the time the case was decided, Ms. Brown was of junior high school age, a level that already was desegregated in Topeka. Her family later moved to Missouri but came back to Topeka, where Ms. Brown attended college at Washburn University and Kansas State.
Ms. Brown later married twice and had children and grandchildren but largely shunned the spotlight.
She brought a second case as an adult against the Topeka schools in 1979, arguing that the district’s schools still weren’t desegregated. By 1993, federal courts had agreed and three new schools were built as a result.
• Victor Morton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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