CNN

Linda Brown, woman at center of Brown v. Board case, dies

Mar 26, 2018, 5:46 PM | Updated: Jun 7, 2022, 4:00 pm
Full credit: Carl Wasaki/Life Images Collection/Getty Images

Linda Brown outside Sumner Elementary...
Full credit: Carl Wasaki/Life Images Collection/Getty Images Linda Brown outside Sumner Elementary School in Topkea, Kansas, in 1953.

(CNN) — Linda Brown, who as a little girl was at the center of the Brown v. Board of Education case that ended segregation in American schools, has died, a funeral home spokesman said.

Brown died Sunday afternoon in Topeka, Kansas, the spokesman said. She was 75 years old.

Brown was 9 years old in 1951 when her father, Oliver Brown, tried to enroll her at Sumner Elementary School, then an all-white school in Topeka, Kansas, near her home.

When the school blocked her enrollment, her father sued the Topeka Board of Education. Four similar cases were combined with Brown’s complaint and presented to the Supreme Court as Oliver L. Brown et al v. Board of Education of Topeka, Shawnee County, Kansas, et al.

The court ruled in May 1954, that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” a violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states that no citizen can be denied equal protection under the law.

Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP’s special counsel and lead counsel for the plaintiffs, argued the case before the Supreme Court.

“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,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel at NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“It was not easy for her or her family, but her sacrifice broke barriers and changed the meaning of equality in this country.”

The ruling overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, which established the separate but equal doctrine that formed the legal basis for Jim Crow laws. The court directed schools to desegregate “with all deliberate speed,” but it failed to establish a firm timetable for doing so. The Supreme Court would outline the process of school desegregation in Brown II in 1955, but it would take years for schools across the nation to fully comply.

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer on Monday acknowledged Brown’s contribution to American history.

“Sixty-four years ago a young girl from Topeka brought a case that ended segregation in public schools in America. Linda Brown’s life reminds us that sometimes the most unlikely people can have an incredible impact and that by serving our community we can truly change the world.”

Brown was born in 1943, according to the National Archives. When her father joined the lawsuit, neighborhoods in Topeka were partially integrated, Brown said in a 1985 interview for the documentary series “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years.”

“I played with children that were Spanish-American. I played with children that were white, children that were Indian, and black children in my neighborhood,” she said.

High schools and junior high schools were integrated, too, she said. The only schools that were not were elementary schools, including hers, Monroe Elementary School, she said.

In 1954, there were four African-American schools and 18 white schools in Topeka.

To reach the bus that carried her and her sisters 2 miles across town to the all-black school, she said she had to walk through railroad yards and across a busy avenue.

“I remember the walk as being very long at that time,” she said in 1985. “And then when wintertime came, it was a very cold walk. I remember that. I remember walking, tears freezing up on my face, because I began to cry because it was so cold, and many times I had to turn around and run back home.”

In 1950 her father, a welder and an associate pastor, joined the Topeka NAACP’s legal challenge to a Kansas law that permitted racially segregated elementary schools in certain cities based on population. He attempted to enroll her in Sumner Elementary School in 1951.

“My father was like a lot of other black parents here in Topeka at that time. They were concerned not about the quality of education that their children were receiving, they were concerned about the amount — or distance, that the child had to go to receive an education,” Brown said in the 1985 interview.

“He felt that it was wrong for black people to have to accept second-class citizenship, and that meant being segregated in their schools, when in fact, there were schools right in their neighborhoods that they could attend, and they had to go clear across town to attend an all-black school. And this is one of the reasons that he became involved in this suit, because he felt that it was wrong for his child to have to go so far a distance to receive a quality education.”

Monroe and Sumner elementary schools became National Historic Landmarks on May 4, 1987, according to the National Park Service. President George H.W. Bush signed the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site Act of 1992 on October 26, 1992, which established Monroe as a national park.

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

CNN

FILE: Photos of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins are displayed before a vigil held to honor her at A...
Chloe Melas, CNN

Alec Baldwin reaches settlement with Halyna Hutchins’ family

The family of Halyna Hutchins, the cinematographer killed on the "Rust" movie set in 2021, and Alec Baldwin have reached a settlement.
20 hours ago
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 03: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange during af...
Paul R. La Monica, CNN Business

Dow rallies more than 1,500 points in two days

Is the worst really over on Wall Street? It's too soon to say. But stocks rose sharply again Tuesday following Monday's big rally.
2 days ago
FILE: SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  Vladimir Putin, President of Russia speaks during the Pr...
Joshua Berlinger and Olga Voitovych, CNN

Ukraine is hitting Russia hard in the regions Moscow is trying to seize

Vladimir Putin sought to finalize the formalities of its claim to four Ukrainian regions, none of which are fully controlled by Russia anymore.
2 days ago
FILE: North Koraen Leader Kim Jong Un (Photo by Korea Summit Press Pool/Getty Images)...
Yoonjung Seo, Emiko Jozuka, Brad Lendon and Simone McCarthy, CNN

North Korea launches missile over Japan, sending residents to shelter

Japan urged residents to take shelter early Tuesday morning after North Korea fired at least one ballistic missile over the north of the country.
3 days ago
The competitors allegedly used fillet and lead balls to weigh down their walleye. Anglers win based...
Zoe Sottile, CNN

Cheating scandal at Ohio tournament rocks competitive fishing world

The would-be winners of almost $29,000 at an Ohio fishing tournament were disqualified on Friday after it was discovered their fish were stuffed with lead weights and fish fillets.
3 days ago
MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell greets the crowd during a "Save America" rally at Alaska Airlines Center ...
Dan Berman, CNN

Supreme Court allows defamation lawsuit against MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell to proceed

Dominion Voting Systems' defamation lawsuit against MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell can move forward after the Supreme Court on Monday declined to consider Lindell's attempt to block the case.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Ask these questions before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Cloud storage technology with 3d rendering drawer with files in cloud...
PC Laptops

How backing up your computer can help you relieve stress

Don't wait for something bad to happen before backing up your computer. Learn how to protect your data before disaster strikes.
young woman with stickers on laptop computer...
Les Olson

7 ways print marketing materials can boost your business

Custom print marketing materials are a great way to leave an impression on clients or customers. Read for a few ideas to spread the word about your product or company.
young woman throwing clothes to organize a walk in closet...
Lighting Design

How to organize your walk-in closet | 7 easy tips to streamline your storage today

Read our tips to learn how to organize your walk-in closet for more storage space. These seven easy tips can help you get the most out of your space.
Linda Brown, woman at center of Brown v. Board case, dies