Topeka, Kansas: Linda Carol Brown, who was at the center of the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing segregated public schools has died. Her sister, Cheryl Brown Henderson, founding president of The Brown Foundation and Peaceful Rest Funeral Chapel of Topeka confirmed that Linda Brown died Sunday afternoon. Linda Brown was 76. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Her father, Rev. Oliver L. Brown, an assistant minister at St. Mark’s African Methodist Episcopal Church , became the lead plaintiff in the Brown v. Board of Education case after attempting to enroll the 9-year-old third-grader in 1951 in the all-white Sumner Elementary School near the family’s home in Topeka.
He was rebuffed and told his daughter had to attend the all-black Monroe School, about two miles from their home. The Topeka school district maintained 18 elementary schools for white children and four for black children.
Oliver Brown was recruited by the NAACP, which had organized four other class-action lawsuits challenging high school segregation in South Carolina, Virginia, Delaware and the District of Columbia. According to the Brown Foundation, which promotes the history of the case, Brown was named the lead plaintiff “as a legal strategy to have a man at the head of the roster.”
Packaged together, the lawsuits were successfully argued by an NAACP legal team led by Thurgood Marshall, who later served as a Supreme Court justice. The court unanimously ruled on May 17, 1954, that school segregation violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 1954 that “separate but equal” schools violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. “Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect,” the court said in its ruling, which overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine that had stood since the 1896 case of Plessy vs. Ferguson.
After the Brown case was decided, her family moved in 1959 to Springfield, Mo. Oliver Brown died two years later, and his widow, Leola Brown, moved back to Topeka with Linda and Cheryl Brown.
In 1979, Linda Brown, now with her own children in Topeka schools, became a plaintiff in a resurrected version of Brown, which still had the same title. Topeka Capital-Journal archives indicate the plaintiffs sued the school district for not following through with desegregation.
Federal Judge Richard Rogers sided with the school district in a 1987 decision, but an appeals court reversed his ruling in 1989 and the Supreme Court chose not to review that decision. Rogers then approved a desegregation plan for Topeka Unified School District 501 in 1993.
As she grew older, Linda Brown became more vocal, fighting segregation in schools again in the 1970s and traveling the country to talk about her experience in Topeka.
At a 1989 reception in Topeka, Linda Brown introduced guest speaker Rosa Parks, who’d earned a place in Civil Rights history by being arrested in 1955 after she refused to give up her bus seat to a white person in Montgomery, Alabama.
Linda Brown’s name will live eternally, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said at a Topeka church while visiting this community for the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board ruling in May 2004.
“God has a way of taking the ordinary people in sub-ordinary positions, exalting them to extraordinary heights and then they become the frame of reference,” he said. “So Topeka is on the map not because of the richest family in Topeka – nobody knows who that is nor does anybody care. Linda Brown’s name, and her father’s name, will live eternally.”
“Sixty-four years ago a young girl from Topeka brought a case that ended segregation in public schools in America,” said Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer. Colyer said her life reminds us the most unlikely people can have an incredible impact.
Topeka Rep. Fred Patton, the Republican chairman of the House K-12 Budget Committee and president of the Seaman USD 345 school board, said the Browns’ work for equality was felt across the country.
“She and her family have made such a big impact not only on education but the civil rights movement in general,” Patton said.
Linda Carol Brown Thompson was born on Feb. 20, 1943, according to the funeral home though some sources say she was born in 1942.
ACLU Verified account @ACLU: The Brown decision made America a beacon of hope to the rest of the world; it taught us that we could, through the rule of law, end a kind of oppression and race-based caste system. Today we honor Linda Brown and all the fights we have left to win.
Women’s March Verified account @womensmarch: We want to remember Linda Brown, the woman at the center of the Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court Case. The court’s landmark ruling in 1954 led to the desegregation of the US education system. #womenshistorymonth
Kamala Harris Verified account @KamalaHarris: Linda Brown’s passing is a reminder that our youth have always been our future. Her courage at such a young age to stand up to segregated schools forever changed the fight for our civil rights. I am sending my condolences to the Brown family, along with our entire nation.
Southern Poverty Law Center Verified account @splcenter: Linda Brown was in third grade when she changed the course of this nation.
Her family’s fight for her education put her at the center of #BrownvBoard, the #SCOTUS case that struck down school segregation across the country. #RestInPower #TheMarchContinues
Cecile Richards Verified account @CecileRichards: Never doubt the ability of one determined young person to change the world. Thank you for your courage and strength, Ms. Brown. Rest in power.
Sen Dianne Feinstein Verified account @SenFeinstein: As a little girl, Linda Brown became the center of a monumental stand against institutionalized segregation. Brown v. Board of Education loudly proclaimed that separate was anything but equal. Today we remember how far we’ve come in one lifetime and how far we have to go.
Tim Cook Verified account @tim_cook “In the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.” Thank you to Linda Brown for what you stood up for, and the impact it had on this nation. Rest In Peace.
Matthew A. Cherry Verified account @MatthewACherry: Rest In Peace. It’s also insane that someone who turned 76 years old in 2018 helped to desegregate schools
Stay Woke, Resist @gredins: Could we get a few words from the Secretary of Education @BetsyDeVosED on the passing of Linda Brown, one of the students in Brown vs Board of Education court case.
NAACP Verified account @NAACP: RIP A hero for our nation! Woman at center of Brown v. Topeka BOE case dies at 76
Nat’l Urban League Verified account @NatUrbanLeague: Our nation has lost #LindaBrown, the young girl at the center of #BrownVBoard. She will always remain central to the story of how America integrated its school. May she rest in power.
Be A King Verified account @BerniceKing Thank you, #LindaBrown. Well done. #BrownvBoard
Legal Defense Fund Verified account @NAACP_LDF: Linda Brown, lead plaintiff in our landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, has died. As a young girl, her courage in the face of one of the darkest forces in American history fundamentally changed our nation. For that, we owe her our eternal gratitude
Eric Schneiderman Verified account @AGSchneiderman: Thank you, Linda. The work continues.