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

CNN/ Newswire | 3/27/2018, 7:33 a.m.
Linda Brown, who as a little girl was at the center of the Brown v. Board of Education case that ...
Full credit: Carl Wasaki/Life Images Collection/Getty Images Linda Brown outside Sumner Elementary School in Topkea, Kansas, in 1953.

By Emanuella Grinberg, Sheena Jones and Amir Vera, CNN

(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, 75, died Sunday afternoon in Topeka, Kansas, the spokesman said.

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 near her Topeka 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.

While her name will forever be a part of American civil rights history, her contributions to the community after the case are part of her legacy, too, longtime friend Carolyn Campbell said.

Campbell attended St. Mark's African Methodist Episcopal Church, where Brown played piano and taught children how to play. Before her death, the church dedicated the piano to her.

Campbell described her as a "very quiet person, but spiritual, patient and very kind."

"Linda was a spiritual Christian woman that loved not only the Lord, but she loved her family and took on the responsibility of what Brown v. Board of Education meant to her. Her legacy will be that she shared all of her life with all of us," Campbell said.

She was also instrumental in one of the church day care programs, Campbell said.

"She would read books to children, she was all about children and education."

A 'normal' schoolchild who transformed the country

The court ruled in May 1954 that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal," a violation of the 14th Amendment of the US 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.