Linda Brown, who has died at 75, was the central figure in one of the landmark cases in the fight against racial segregation in American schools.
As a girl in Kansas in the 1950s, her father tried to enrol her in an all-white school in Topeka. He and several black families were turned away, and the resulting Brown v Board of Education case challenged the system of segregation that underpinned public schools.
A 1954 decision by the US Supreme Court followed, outlawing segregation in schools and securing Ms Brown a place in history.
She was, said Sherrilyn Ifill, president at the Legal Defence and Educational Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, one of a band of heroic young people who courageously fought to end the ultimate symbol of white supremacy.
“She stands as an example of how ordinary schoolchildren took centre 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,” Ms Ifill said.
It was the NAACP’s legal arm that had brought the lawsuit to challenge segregation in public schools before the Supreme Court and Ms Brown’s father, Oliver, became the lead plaintiff.
On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that separating black and white children was unconstitutional because it denied black children the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.
The decision overturned the court’s 1896 “separate but equal” doctrine for blacks in public facilities.
“In the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place,” Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote. “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
Brown vs Board was an historic marker in the civil rights movement, probably the most high-profile case brought by the lawyers of the NAACP in their decade-long campaign to chip away at the “Jim Crow” laws and conventions that regulated the American south.
Oliver Brown, for whom the case was named, became a minister at a church in Springfield, Missouri. He died of a heart attack in 1961. Linda and her sister, Cheryl Brown Henderson, founded in 1988 the Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research.