Linda Brown, whose father objected when she was not allowed to attend an all-white school in her neighborhood and who thus came to symbolize one of the most transformative court proceedings in American history, the school desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education, died on Sunday in Topeka.
Her death was announced on Monday by her sister Cheryl Brown Henderson in a statement to The Topeka Capital-Journal.
Topeka's former Sumner School was all-white when Brown's father, Oliver, tried to enroll the family. When the school blocked her enrollment her father sued the Topeka Board of Education.
It is Brown's father, Oliver, whose name is attached to the famous case, although the suit that ended up in the US Supreme Court actually represented a number of families in several states.
The case was reportedly brought before the Supreme Court by the legal arm of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and joined with cases from Delaware, South Carolina, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled on May 17, 1954 that segregation was unconstitutional - a landmark moment in the USA civil rights movement. The ruling overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, which established the "separate but equal" doctrine.
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The president and director-counsel at NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. says Linda Brown is one of a band of heroic young people who courageously fought to end the ultimate symbol of white supremacy racial segregation in public schools. "Linda Brown's life reminds us that by standing up for our principles and serving our communities we can truly change the world".
"She stands as an example of how ordinary schoolchildren took center stage in transforming this country", Ifill said.
Schools were not the only segregated areas in America: there were also separate restaurants, bathrooms and water fountains for blacks and whites in parts of the country - something protesters held sit-ins to oppose as part of the civil rights movement. "May she rest in power", said the Congressional Black Caucus.
As a mother of two children who had attended racially diverse schools, she said, "By them going to an integrated school, they are advancing much more rapidly than I was at the age that they are now".
High schools and junior high schools were integrated, too, she said. 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". The parents argued that because of housing patterns in Topeka, racially segregated schools remained in the city, in violation of the 1954 ruling. Instead, Linda would be assigned to attend an all-Black school miles away. She told the Times in 1961 that she couldn't remember if she went to court at any point during the case, and that even in Topeka her peers were incredulous that she had played a significant role in history. "They were concerned not about the quality of education that their children were receiving, they were concerned about the amount, or distance that the child had to go to receive an education", Brown said.