Linda Brown, girl at centre of US segregation battle, dies at 76

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The civil rights activist who as a Kansas schoolgirl was at the heart of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing racial segregation in American public schools, has died at age 76.

Linda Brown died on Sunday in her hometown of Topeka, Kansas, the administrator for the Peaceful Rest Funeral Chapel, Robin Bruce, told Reuters on Monday.

Bruce said she was not at liberty to provide additional information on the circumstances of Brown's death.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which brought the historic legal case challenging school segregation, hailed Brown and her family's contribution to what it called "the most important, transformational Supreme Court decision of the 20th century."

"Linda Brown is one of that special band of heroic young people who, along with her family courageously fought to end the ultimate symbol of white supremacy - racial segregation in public schools," said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-general of the organization.

Brown's father, Oliver Brown, who died in 1961, was the named plaintiff in the case filed on his daughter's behalf and combined with several similar lawsuits contesting the "separate but equal" doctrine underpinning racial segregation.

Linda Brown was a third-grader in an all-black elementary school more than 2 miles from her house when her father first tried in 1951 to enroll her in the all-white elementary school several blocks away and was rebuffed.

The ensuing court case was handled and argued by the NAACP's lead attorney, Thurgood Marshall, who went on years later to be appointed the first African-American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The high court, in its unanimous May 14, 1954, decision in the case, ruled that racial segregation was a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment.

A year later, the high court handed down a plan for how desegregation was to be carried out, ruling that it should proceed with "all deliberate speed."

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