Linda Brown has died at 76 years old. She was the symbolic center of Brown vs. Board of Education, the 1954 Supreme Court decision that bore her father’s name and helped overturn racial segregation in the United States.
When Brown was 9 years old, her hometown of Topeka, Kansas did not allow white and black children to attend the same schools. Brown wanted to go to Sumner Elementary School, which was just four blocks from her home. But it was segregated and only open to white students. So Brown had to walk and then hitch a bus to an all-black school many miles out of the way.
Linda’s father, Oliver Brown, along with 12 other families, were advised by the NAACP to try enrolling in Sumner. When all of their applications were denied, the NAACP filed a lawsuit led by future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
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.
“I feel that after 30 years, looking back on Brown vs. the Board of Education, it has made an impact in all facets of life for minorities throughout the land,” Brown Thompson said in a 1985 interview for “Eyes on the Prize,” a PBS documentary series on the civil rights movement. “I really think of it in terms of what it has done for our young people, in taking away that feeling of second-class citizenship.”