Linda Brown, who as a 9-year-old schoolgirl sat at the center of the landmark Supreme Court case that outlawed segregated public schools in America, died after a prolonged illness on March 25 in Topeka, Kan. She was 76.
The 1954 Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, began when Brown’s father tried to enroll her at an all-White elementary school, just a few blocks from the family’s home in a racially mixed Topeka neighborhood.
After the school board prohibited his daughter from enrolling at the school, Oliver Brown, an assistant pastor at St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, partnered on behalf of his daughter with the NAACP to file a lawsuit against the Topeka Board of Education.
At the time, the Supreme Court had been dealing with four similar cases from Delaware, the District of Columbia, South Carolina, and Virginia — all of which 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,” with the justices agreeing that it denied 14th Amendment guarantees of equal protection under the law.
“I just couldn’t understand,” Linda Brown said in an NPR interview nearly 20 years after the milestone decision. “We lived in a mixed neighborhood but when school time came, I would have to take the school bus and go clear across town and the White children I played with would go to this other school. My parents tried to explain this to me, but I was too young at that time to understand.”