Linda Brown, the pioneering plaintiff behind the landmark 1954 lawsuit that desegregated schools, defined the tenure of Chief Justice Earl Warren and stamped the legacy of Thurgood Marshall, died Monday. She was 76.
Browns sister, Cheryl Brown Henderson, founding president of The Brown Foundation, confirmed the death.
While politicians, lawyers, judges and demonstrators debated the merits of seating black and white children in the same classroom, it was a little girl named Linda from Topeka, Kan., who carried the battle on her back.
Brown was just 9 years old when a public school in a Midwestern city refused to enroll her because she was black.
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Administrators stood behind the separate but equal doctrine, which had been the law of the land for more than 50 years, a Jim Crow segregation philosophy which promised “equal protection” despite the demeaning practice of pitting whites against blacks.
As long as the separate facilities for the separate races were equal, segregation did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment, courts had ruled.
But in 1951, 13 Topeka parents challenged that notion in a class action suit on behalf of their 20 children, and called on the school district to reverse its racial segregation policy.
The named plaintiff was a welder named Oliver Brown, whose daughter, Linda, a third-grader had to walk six blocks to her school bus stop to ride to a black school one mile away, despite living near a white school only seven blocks away.
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Her name, Brown, was alphabetically at the top of the list of plaintiffs, securing her place in history.
I was a very young child when I started walking to school, Brown said decades later in an interview for Eyes on the Prize, a documentary of the Civil Rights movement.
Being a young child, when I first started the walk it was very frightening to me, and then when wintertime came, it was a very cold walk. I remember that. I remember walking, tears freezing up on my face, because I began to cry because it was so cold, and many times I had to turn around and run back home.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund took up Browns cause, with its lead lawyer, Thurgood Marshall plotting their strategy.
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Marshall would go on to be the first black person to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka reached the Supreme Court. On May 17, 1954, the high court, led by Warren, a former Republican governor of California handed down its decision, declaring the separate but equal doctrine unconstitutional,
Sixty-four years ago a young girl from Topeka brought a case that ended segregation in public schools in America, said Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer. Linda Browns life reminds us that sometimes the most unlikely people can have an incredible impact and that by serving our community we can truly change the world.