Linda Brown, Who Was at Center of Brown v. Board of Education, Dies

Vanessa Romo, National Public Radio, March 27, 2018

Linda Brown, who as a schoolgirl was at the center of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that rejected racial segregation in American schools, died in Topeka, Kan., Sunday afternoon. She was 76.

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The 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, involved several families, all trying to dismantle decades of federal education laws that condoned segregated schools for black and white students. But it began with Brown’s father Oliver, who tried to enroll her at the Sumner School, an all-white elementary school in Topeka just a few blocks from the Browns’ home.

The school board prohibited the child from enrolling and Brown, an assistant pastor at St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, was angry that his daughter had to be shuttled miles away to go to school. He partnered with the NAACP and a dozen other plaintiffs to file a lawsuit against the Topeka Board of Education.

By 1952 the U.S. Supreme Court had on its docket similar cases from Delaware, the District of Columbia, South Carolina, and Virginia. They all challenged the constitutionality of racial segregation in public schools.

Two years later the court unanimously ruled to strike down the doctrine of “separate but equal.” The justices agreed that it denied 14th Amendment guarantees of equal protection under the law.

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By the time the Supreme Court handed down its decision Brown was in junior high school and it was her mother who gave her the good news. “She was very happy,” her mother said.

Brown never got the chance to attend Sumner. The family had moved out of the neighborhood during the lengthy case. But her mother said her younger daughters attended integrated schools, and one of them went on to become a teacher within the Topeka school district.

Even after the Supreme Court decision segregation in public schools continued for years. When finally nine black students enrolled at an all-white high school in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957, they had to be escorted onto the campus by federal guards.

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When asked about her role in the historic case she told NPR it was her father who deserved the credit but added, “I am very proud that this happened to me and my family and I think it has helped minorities everywhere.”

As a mother of two children who had attended racially diverse schools, she said, “By them going to an integrated school, they are advancing much more rapidly than I was at the age that they are now. … And I think that children are relating to one another much better these days because of integration.”

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