Carl Iwasaki | The LIFE Images Collection | Getty Images
Sisters Linda and Terry Lynn Brown sit on a fence outside of their school, the racially segregated Monroe Elementary School, Topeka, Kansas, March 1953.
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.
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.
Peaceful Rest Funeral Chapel of Topeka confirmed that Linda Brown died Sunday afternoon. Funeral arrangements are pending.
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.
“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.”
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.”