Linda Brown, cen­tral fig­ure in school seg­re­ga­tion case, dies

South Florida Times - - NATION -

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - As a girl in Kansas, Linda Brown's fa­ther tried to en­roll her in an all-white school in Topeka. He and sev­eral black fam­i­lies were turned away, spark­ing the Brown v. Board of Ed­u­ca­tion case that chal­lenged seg­re­ga­tion in pub­lic schools.

A 1954 de­ci­sion by the U.S. Supreme Court fol­lowed, strik­ing down racial seg­re­ga­tion in schools and ce­ment­ing Linda Brown's place in his­tory as a cen­tral fig­ure in the land­mark case. Fu­neral of­fi­cials in Topeka said Brown died Sun­day at age 75. A cause of death was not re­leased. Ar­range­ments were pend­ing at Peace­ful Rest Fu­neral Chapel.

Her sis­ter, Ch­eryl Brown Hen­der­son, found­ing pres­i­dent of The Brown Foun­da­tion, con­firmed the death to The Topeka Cap­i­tal-Jour­nal. She de­clined com­ment from the fam­ily.

Sher­ri­lyn Ifill, pres­i­dent and di­rec­tor-coun­sel at NAACP Le­gal De­fense and Ed­u­ca­tional Fund Inc., said in a state­ment that Linda Brown is 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 in a state­ment.

The NAACP's le­gal arm brought the law­suit to chal­lenge seg­re­ga­tion in pub­lic schools be­fore the Supreme Court, and Brown's fa­ther, Oliver Brown, be­came lead plain­tiff.

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.”

The Brown de­ci­sion over­turned the court's Plessy v. Fer­gu­son de­ci­sion, which on May 18, 1896, es­tab­lished a “sep­a­rate but equal” doc­trine for blacks in pub­lic fa­cil­i­ties.

“Sixty-four years ago, a young girl from Topeka, Kansas sparked a case that ended seg­re­ga­tion in pub­lic schools in Amer­ica,” Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer said in a state­ment. “Linda Brown's life re­minds us that by stand­ing up for our prin­ci­ples and serving our com­mu­ni­ties we can truly change the world. Linda's legacy is a cru­cial part of the Amer­i­can story and con­tin­ues to in­spire the mil­lions who have re­al­ized the Amer­i­can dream be­cause of her.”

Brown v. Board was a his­toric marker in the civil rights move­ment, likely the most high-pro­file case brought by Thur­good Mar­shall and the lawyers of the NAACP Le­gal De­fense and Ed­u­ca­tion Fund in their decade-plus cam­paign to chip away at the doc­trine of “sep­a­rate but equal.”

“Her legacy is not only here but na­tion­wide,” Kansas Deputy Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sioner Dale Den­nis said.

Oliver Brown, for whom the case was named, be­came a min­is­ter at a church in Spring­field, Mis­souri. He died of a heart at­tack in 1961. Linda Brown and her sis­ter founded in 1988 the Brown Foun­da­tion for Ed­u­ca­tional Eq­uity, Ex­cel­lence and Re­search.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF TALK­ING POINTS MEMO

Linda Brown

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