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Linda Brown, the main plaintiff in the famous, groundbreaking Brown vs.

Board of Education case, passed yesterday at the age of 76 in Topeka, Kan.

Back in 1952, the little girl’s father, an assistant pastor, sued when a

school rejected her application to attend. The landmark case went all the

way to the U.S. Supreme Court and effectively ended segregation in American

public schools. The Kansas case wasn’t the only one facing the highest

court in the land; similar cases from Delaware, South Carolina, Virginia

and the District of Columbia were also on the dockets. By 1954, the court

unanimously voted to strike down the concept of “separate but equal.”

According to the seven judges, segregated schools violated the 14th

Amendment of equal protection under the law.

“I just couldn’t understand,” Brown told NPR 19 years after the milestone

decision. “We lived in a mixed neighborhood but when school time came I

would have to take the school bus and go clear across town and the White

children I played with would go to this other school,” she said. “My

parents tried to explain this to me but I was too young at that time to

understand.” In the same interview, Brown’s mother, Leola Brown, said she

and her husband tried their best to help their daughter understand why she

wasn’t allowed in the school. She broke it down in simple terms: “It was

because her face was Black. … and she just couldn’t go to school with the

White races at that time.” She said, “Her daddy told her he was going to

try his best to do something about it and see that that was done away.”

Recalling the day her father first walked her by the hand to Sumner School,

Brown said,”I remember him talking to the principal and I remember our

brisk walk back home and how I could just feel the tension within him.”

When they got home, she said, her parents discussed what had gone on “and I

knew that there was something terribly wrong about this,” Brown said. By

the time the Supreme Court handed down its decision Brown was in junior

high school and it was her mother who gave her the good news. “She was very

happy,” her mother said. Brown never got the chance to attend Sumner. The

family had moved out of the neighborhood during the lengthy case. But her

mother said her younger daughters attended integrated schools, and one of

them went on to become a teacher within the Topeka school district. Even

after the Supreme Court decision segregation in public schools continued

for years. When finally nine Black students enrolled at an all-White high

school in Little Rock, Ark., in 1957, they had to be escorted onto the

campus by federal guards.