TOPEKA, Kan. — Linda Brown, the Kansas girl at the center of the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down racial segregation in schools, has died at age 76.
Peaceful Rest Funeral Chapel of Topeka confirmed that Brown died Sunday afternoon. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Topeka's former Sumner School was all-white when her father, Oliver, tried to enroll the family. He became lead plaintiff in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court that ended school segregation.
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Her sister, Cheryl Brown Henderson, founding president of the Brown Foundation, confirmed the death to the Topeka Capital-Journal. She declined to provide comment from the family.
"Her legacy is not only here but nationwide," Kansas Deputy Education Commissioner Dale Dennis said. "The effect she had on our society would be unbelievable and insurmountable."
Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement that Linda Brown was one of a 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. It was not easy for her or her family, but her sacrifice broke barriers and changed the meaning of equality in this country," Ifill said.
The landmark case was brought before the Supreme Court by the NAACP's legal arm to challenge segregation in public schools. It began after several black families in Topeka were turned down when they tried to enroll their children in white schools near their homes. The lawsuit was joined with cases from Delaware, South Carolina, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that separating black and white children was unconstitutional because it denied black children the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law. "In the field of public education, the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place," Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote. "Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal."
"We are to be grateful for the family that stood up for what is right," said Democratic state Rep. Annie Kuether of Topeka. "That made a difference to the rest of the world."