Born on the 20 February 1942 to Leola and Oliver Brown, Linda was forced to trek two miles across railroad tracks and take a bus to a segregated African-American school facility in her neighbourhood despite having a school not far from her home.
At the time, America followed a “separate but equal” policy, derived from a Louisiana law that was solidified in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case that allowed state-sponsored segregation.
Schools, public transport and other public services were segregated along racial lines, with “white only” areas that in practise led to the disenfranchisement of African-Americans.
Civil rights activists had argued that segregation was inherently unequal, as schools for black Americans were often of a much poorer quality.
In 1950, when Linda was eight years old, civil rights group the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) asked some African-American parents – including Oliver Brown – to try and enrol their children in all-white schools.
The idea was to tear down the Plessy v. Ferguson case and set a new precedent by desegregating schools using 13 different black families, including the Browns.
In 1954, after four long years of struggle in the courts and opposition from pro-segregation parents and politicians, NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall won. It led to the unanimous decision that segregated schools were “inherently unequal” and had a “detrimental effect” on African-American children.
After Brown v. Board of Education.
Linda went on to be an education consultant, and later re-file the suit against the Topeka Board of Education in 1979, claiming that segregation was still very much a reality in America.
Brown had a complicated relationship with the idea that she was a legacy and told People:
I feel like I’ve been exploited.
I’m a symbol, and people take advantage of me because I represent something. Look at the number of books and documentaries.
Nevertheless, she has expressed pride in the part she played to shape America’s future, and also recalled when her daughter came home and told her they were learning about her.
People on Twitter paid tribute to her.
California senator Kamala Harris:
Linda Brown's passing is a reminder that our youth have always been our future. Her courage at such a young age to… https://t.co/KKfizl2uTR