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Linda Brown Dies. She Was At The Center Of Brown v. Board Of Education


A central figure in the momentous civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka has died. Linda Brown was just a kid when her father tried to enroll her in a white elementary school. And a promise he made to her in 1951 led to a transformative U.S. Supreme Court decision three years later. Here's Frank Morris from member station KCUR.

FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: In the early 1950s, Linda Brown was a kid growing up in a racially mixed Topeka neighborhood just four blocks from Sumner Elementary School.


LINDA BROWN: But when school time came, I would have to take this school bus and go clear across town. And then the white children that I played with in the neighborhood, they would go to this other school. And my parents tried to explain this to me, but I was too young at that time to understand.

MORRIS: This is Brown speaking to NPR in 1973. Her mom, Leola Brown, told NPR that she and her husband Oliver Brown were faced with explaining racism and segregation to their perplexed little girl.


LEOLA BROWN: But her daddy told her that he was going to try to his best to do something about it and see that that was done away with.

MORRIS: After making this profound promise, Brown walked his daughter to the neighborhood school and tried to enroll her. The principal told him it couldn't be done.


LEOLA BROWN: He came back home, and he was very disgusted. And together, he and the NAACP started a suit against the Board of Education.

MORRIS: It was 1951. Junior and senior high schools in Topeka were already integrated.

JANAI NELSON: The final frontier in desegregating public schools was at the elementary school level.

MORRIS: Janai Nelson is with the NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund.

NELSON: I think everyone knew that once we removed the barriers of segregation from public schools, from children, that that would forever change the course of how Americans interacted with one another, how they viewed each other, how they perceived the humanity of each other.

MORRIS: Three years later, the case was before the U.S. Supreme Court combined with four others from around the country all lumped together under Brown's name.

NELSON: Out of that, the name Brown, the surname Brown became synonymous with notions of equality.

MORRIS: After the landmark ruling and the death of her father, Linda Brown moved back to Topeka, worked in early childhood education, traveled, promoting civil rights and played the piano in the church where her father had preached.

CAROLYN WIMS-CAMPBELL: She was my sister in Christ.

MORRIS: Carolyn Wims-Campbell knew Linda Brown nearly all of her life and not just as the face of desegregation.

WIMS-CAMPBELL: She just wasn't that cute little girl. She was a woman that was caring, was spiritual, a loving person that'll be missed.

MORRIS: Linda Brown died Sunday after a prolonged illness. She was 75. For NPR News, I'm Frank Morris.


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