Linda Brown -- of 1954 Brown v. Board of Education -- Passes Away at 76 Years Old

Brown v. Board of Education is one of the most well-known Supreme Court decisions in American history and was the court case that declared segregated public schools were unconstitutional. Today, the little girl who shared her name with the case has passed away. Linda Brown was 76 years old at her time of death; the case, decided in 1954, was only 64 years ago.

The Topeka Capital-Journal broke the news, reporting this evening that Linda had passed away.

As a third-grader in the 1950s, Linda was forced to commute to Monroe Elementary School more than a mile from her home instead of attending Sumner Elementary School, which was only seven blocks from her home, because the elementary schools in her district separated black and white children.

Her father, Oliver Brown, joined the NAACP’s attempts to challenge segregated schooling and filed a lawsuit on her behalf in 1951.

Linda gave an interview in 1985 for the documentary series “Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years,” in which she notes that it was her father’s love for her that led him to fight for her to be treated equally:

I remember my father as being a very strong man, a very family-oriented man, and this led him to become a part of the NAACP here in Topeka and become a part of the suit filed in behalf of his child, because he believed that a child having to go so far to receive a quality education was wrong, just because of the color of skin, and he was very, very determined that something was going to be done about this.

Five NAACP-sponsored cases challenging school segregation across the country were combined and brought before the Supreme Court under the name Brown v. Board of Education:

  • Bolling v. Sharpe (Washington, D.C.)
  • Gebhart v. Belton (Delaware)
  • Briggs v. Elliott (South Carolina)
  • Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County (Virginia)
  • Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (Kansas)

After more than a year, in 1954 the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that “separate but equal” schools were unconstitutional because they violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment:

[D]oes segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though the physical facilities and other “tangible” factors may be equal, deprive the children of the minority group of equal educational opportunities? We believe that it does…

We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Because segregation was controversial, Chief Justice Earl Warren thought it was necessary that the court decision be unanimous to provide as much strength to the decision as possible in a preemptive attempt to weaken any backlash or resistance.

In the 1985 documentary interview, Linda shared how she viewed the Supreme Court decision and its effects:

I feel that after thirty years, looking back on Brown v. The Board of Education, it has made an impact in all facets of life for minorities throughout the land. 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. I think it has made the dreams, hopes and aspirations of our young people greater, today.

It’s difficult to believe that it has only been 64 years since this landmark civil rights court decision. As Republican Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer notes below, Linda and her father Oliver had an incredible impact and helped to change the world.

Read more at the Topeka Capital-Journal.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.