Linda Brown, Symbol of Landmark Desegregation Case, Dies


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Linda Brown Smith in an undated photograph. She was a third grader when her father began a class-action lawsuit, which led to the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision against school segregation.

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Associated Press

Linda Brown, whose father objected when she was not allowed to attend an all-white school in her neighborhood and who thus came to symbolize one of the most transformative court proceedings in American history, the school desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education, died on Sunday in Topeka, Kan.

Her death was confirmed on Monday by a spokesman for the Peaceful Rest Funeral Chapel in Topeka, which is handling her funeral arrangements. He did not specify the cause, and sources conflict on her age, either 75 or 76. She lived in Topeka.

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Linda Brown in 1964 outside the Sumner School, which had denied her enrollment in 1950.

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Associated Press

It is Ms. Brown’s father, Oliver, whose name is attached to the famous case, although the suit that ended up in the United States Supreme Court actually represented a number of families in several states. In 1954, in a unanimous decision, the court ruled that segregated schools were inherently unequal. The decision upended decades’ worth of educational practice, in the South and elsewhere, and its ramifications are still being felt.

Linda Brown was born in Topeka to Leola and Oliver Brown.

Cheryl Brown Henderson, Linda’s sister and the founding president of the Brown Foundation, an educational organization devoted to the case, recalled her parents and others being recruited to press a test case.

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Ms. Brown in 1979 with Benjamin L. Hooks, the executive director of the NAACP, on the 25th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling.

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Lou Krasky/Associated Press

“They were told, ‘Find the nearest white school to your home and take your child or children and a witness, and attempt to enroll in the fall, and then come back and tell us what happened,’ ” she said.

In an interview with The Miami Herald in 1987, Linda Brown remembered the fateful day in September 1950 when her father took her to the Sumner School.

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Linda Brown in 2004 during a commemoration in 2004 in Topeka, Kan.

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Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

“It was a bright, sunny day and we walked briskly, and I remember getting to these great big steps,” she said. “I remember the steps being so big and I was so small.”

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