Linda Brown, 76: Her Father’s Love Forced a Lawsuit and A Legacy

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Once the focus of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling desegregating public schools across the United States, Linda Brown has passed away at age 76. The Topeka, Kansas native’s father, Oliver L. Brown, the central plaintiff, was incensed that his nine-year-old should have to pass the nearby, and all-white Sumner School that would not accept her, to travel miles away to a colored school that would. Brown, an assistant pastor at St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, collaborated with other parents and the local NAACP to sue the Topeka Board of Education and soon several states across the nation filed their own lawsuits with the Supreme Court. The Brown decision overturned Plessy vs. Ferguson, which maintained the legality of segregation in the classroom and beyond.

Although Brown was a small child at the time, she says she clearly felt that something was wrong the day her father tried to enroll her in the local Sumner School, only to be turned away. She did not understand, despite her parents’ attempts to help her understand, the ugly realities of racial hatred. And although she would never attend the Sumner School after the historic ruling of 1954, both she and her sisters would later attend desegregated schools, as would a nation of Black children, all beneficiaries of her father’s activism, and of her bravery.

Linda went on to become an activist as well, filing a lawsuit in 1978 to help uphold her father’s legislation. She and her sister Linda also founded the Brown Foundation to facilitate discourse nationwide about rights and racial wrongs.

Author and professor Melissa Harris Perry said of Brown,

“The passing of Linda Brown is yet another stark reminder of how our nation has long relied on the sacrifices of our school children to catalyze change.”

Rep. Barbara Lee remembered Brown with fondness.

“Even as a young girl, Linda fought to show our country that separate is never equal. She persisted. She ended school segregation, and she permanently changed life for the better for children across America. Rest in Power.”