TOPEKA, Kan. (CBSNEWS.COM/AP) – Linda Brown Thompson, who as a young girl was the student at the center of the landmark Supreme Court case that declared school racial segregation unconstitutional, has died in Topeka, Kansas. She was 76.
The Peaceful Rest Funeral Chapel in Topeka confirmed it is handling funeral arrangements for Brown.
Born in 1943, Brown was in third grade in 1950 when she was denied admission to an all-white elementary school in her hometown of Topeka. She lived 20 blocks from her segregated school, but just five blocks from the all-white school. Kansas schools at the time were segregated by state law.
Brown’s father, Rev. Oliver Brown, sued the school district in 1951. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) took up the case, which was combined with segregation suits against school districts in other states when it came before the Supreme Court. Future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall was the lead attorney for the NAACP.
In a unanimous ruling in 1954, the court declared school segregation an unconstitutional violation of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. The ruling, written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine that had served as the basis for segregation of public facilities since the 1896 case Plessy v. Ferguson.
“Sixty-four years ago a young girl from Topeka brought a case that ended segregation in public schools in America,” Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “Linda Brown’s 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.”
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.
Linda Brown and her sister founded in 1988 the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research.
The foundation says on its webpage that it was established as a living tribute to the attorneys, community organizers and plaintiffs in the landmark Supreme Court decision. Its mission is to build upon their work and keep the ideals of the decision relevant for future generations.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)