(CNN) Linda Brown, who as a little girl was at the center of the Brown v. Board of Education case that ended segregation in American schools, has died, a funeral home spokesman said.
Brown, 75, died Sunday afternoon in Topeka, Kansas, the spokesman said.
Brown was 9 years old in 1951 when her father, Oliver Brown, tried to enroll her at Sumner Elementary School, then an all-white school near her Topeka home. When the school blocked her enrollment her father sued the Topeka Board of Education. Four similar cases were combined with Brown's complaint and presented to the Supreme Court as Oliver L. Brown et al v. Board of Education of Topeka, Shawnee County, Kansas, et al.
While her name will forever be a part of American civil rights history, her contributions to the community after the case are part of her legacy, too, longtime friend Carolyn Campbell said.
People we lost in 2018
, co-founder of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, has died, according to the theater's Facebook page. He was 84.
, a rapper and producer who began his rise in the music industry in his late teens, died Friday, September 7, his attorney David Byrnes told the Washington Post. He was 26.
Actor Burt Reynolds,
whose easygoing charms and handsome looks drew prominent roles in films such as "Smokey and the Bandit" and "Boogie Nights," died Thursday, September 6. He was 82 years old.
, the playwright and screenwriter whose indestructible comedies -- including "The Odd Couple," "Barefoot in the Park," "The Sunshine Boys" and "Brighton Beach Memoirs" -- made him one of the most successful writers in American history, died on August 26. He was 91.
, a Vietnam War hero who served in the US Senate for more than 30 years and ran for president twice, died August 25 at the age of 81. McCain, a conservative maverick, won the Republican nomination in 2008 but lost to Barack Obama. He continued to serve in Congress after being diagnosed with brain cancer last year.
, a vocalist for the rock band We Came as Romans, died August 25, according to a statement on the band's Twitter account. He was 28.
, the debonair TV host who regaled audiences with talk of "champagne wishes and caviar dreams," died August 24, his publicist confirmed to CNN. He was 76.
Retired guitarist Ed King
, who co-wrote the Lynyrd Skynyrd hit "Sweet Home Alabama," the tune with the classic riff that became a Southern rock anthem, died on August 23, his Facebook page said. The post did not include a cause of death or King's age.
, the first black African to lead the United Nations, died August 18 at the age of 80. He served as the UN's Secretary-General from 1997 to 2006. His efforts to secure a more peaceful world brought him and the UN the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001.
, whose gospel-rooted singing and bluesy yet expansive delivery earned her the title "the Queen of Soul," died August 16, a family statement said. She was 76.
, a gregarious actress with a prodigious career on stage, screen and TV, died August 5 at the age of 92, her son Larry Strauss told CNN. She is best known for her role as housekeeper Edna Garrett, first on the sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes" and then the spinoff "The Facts of Life."
, the former American airman whose radio show provided the inspiration for Robin Williams' character in "Good Morning, Vietnam," died on July 18, according to his family. He was 79.
, who rose to fame as a Hollywood heartthrob in the 1950s, died July 8, his partner Allan Glaser confirmed to CNN. He was 86.
, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his photograph of terrified Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez looking at an armed US agent, died at the age of 71, the Associated Press said on July 3.
, the patriarch who launched the musical Jackson family dynasty, died at the age of 89, a source close to the family told CNN on June 27.
, drummer and founding member of the metal band Pantera, died at the age of 54, the band announced on Facebook on June 22.
Actor Jackson Odell
, 20, was found unresponsive at a home in Tarzana, California on June 8, the LA County Medical Examiner's Office said. An autopsy had not been performed, the office said. Odell played Ari Caldwell on the TV sitcom "The Goldbergs."
, a guitarist who appeared on five of Fleetwood Mac's albums, died in London on June 8, according to the band. He was 68.
Actress Eunice Gayson
, the first "Bond girl" in the James Bond movies, died June 8, according to her Twitter page. She was 90. Gayson played Sylvia Trench in "Dr. No" and "From Russia With Love."
The suicide of Anthony Bourdain
, the chef and gifted storyteller who took CNN viewers around the world, was confirmed by the network on June 8. He was 61.
Kate Brosnahan Spade
, who created an iconic, accessible handbag line that bridged Main Street and high-end fashion, hanged herself in an apparent suicide June 5, according to New York Police Department sources. She was 55. Her company has retail shops and outlet stores all over the world.
Former San Francisco 49er Dwight Clark
died June 4 after a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. He was 61. Clark was on the receiving end of one of the greatest plays in NFL history, forever known as "The Catch."
Actor Jerry Maren
, center, died May 24 due to complications from congestive heart failure, according to his family. Maren, 98, was the last surviving munchkin from "The Wizard of Oz."
, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, died May 22 at the age of 85. Roth was one of America's most prolific and controversial 20th-century novelists, with a career that spanned decades and more than two dozen books.
, the innovative journalist and author who wrote such best-selling masterpieces as "The Bonfire of the Vanities" and "The Right Stuff, died on May 14 at the age of 87. Wolfe was known as a pioneer of a literary style that became known as New Journalism. It was a long-form of writing in which writers deeply immersed themselves in the subject they were writing about.
, who played Lois Lane in the original 1978 "Superman" movie, died on May 13, her manager confirmed to CNN. Kidder was 69 years old.
, the founder of the Burning Man festival, died April 28, according to Burning Man Project CEO Marian Goodell. He was 70. Burning Man is a multiday event dedicated to art and community, where attendees are asked to follow a set of rules that include the practice of "gifting."
, an actor who played Mini-Me in two of the Austin Powers comedy films, died at the age of 49, according to statements posted to his social media accounts on April 21. "Verne was an extremely caring individual. He wanted to make everyone smile, be happy, and laugh," a statement posted to his social media said. No cause of death was immediately released.
, the matriarch of a Republican political dynasty and a first lady who elevated the cause of literacy, died April 17, according to a statement from her husband's office. She was 92.
, best known for playing Judge Harry Stone on TV's "Night Court," was found dead inside his home in Asheville, North Carolina, on April 16, according to police. He was 65.
R. Lee Ermey
, an actor known for his Golden Globe-nominated role as an intimidating drill sergeant in "Full Metal Jacket," died April 15, according to a statement from his manager. Ermey was 74.
, a producer whose boundary-pushing series like "Hill Street Blues" and "NYPD Blue" helped define the modern TV drama, died April 1 after a battle with leukemia. He was 74.
, who as a little girl was at the center of the US Supreme Court case that ended segregation in schools, died on March 25, a funeral home spokesman said. She was 75.
, the brilliant British physicist who overcame a debilitating disease to publish wildly popular books probing the mysteries of the universe, died on March 14. He was 76.
Fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy
, a pioneer in high-end ready-to-wear who was famous for styling Audrey Hepburn's little black dress in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," died at the age of 91, the House of Givenchy confirmed on March 12.
Evangelist Billy Graham -- a confidant to presidents, a guiding light to generations of American evangelicals and a globe-trotting preacher who converted millions to Christianity -- died February 21 at the age of 99
, his spokesman confirmed to CNN.
British actress Emma Chambers
, who starred alongside Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts in the 1999 movie "Notting Hill," died on February 21, according to her agent. She was 53 years old.
Veteran Bollywood actress Sridevi
was found dead in a hotel bathtub on February 24. Police in the United Arab Emirates ruled out any suggestion of foul play, and a forensics report
said the 54-year-old died from "accidental drowning following loss of consciousness."
Actor John Mahoney
, known for his role as Martin Crane in the sitcom "Frasier," died February 4 after a brief hospitalization, according to his longtime manager, Paul Martino. The cause of death was not immediately announced. Mahoney was 77.
, the former lead singer for The Temptations whose gritty voice carried some of the biggest hits of the Motown era, died on February 1, according to his booking agent Rosiland Triche. He was 74.
Fantasy novelist Ursula K. Le Guin
died January 22, according to her son Theo Downes-Le Guin. She was 88. The acclaimed author penned everything from short stories to children's books, but she was best known for her work in the science fiction and fantasy realm. She is perhaps best known for her Earthsea series, beginning with "A Wizard of Earthsea" in 1968.
, who was the oldest working actress in Hollywood, died on January 21 at the age of 105, her daughter, Lisa Dudley, told CNN. The character actress appeared in multiple film and television projects over the years, including roles in "Archie Bunker's Place," "Will & Grace" and "When Harry Met Sally." More recently, she appeared as the mother of James Woods' character in the Showtime series "Ray Donovan."
Rapper Fredo Santana
died at his home on January 19, according to Lt. David Smith, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Coroner's office. Santana was 27. Smith said the autopsy was pending. In October, Santana posted on his verified Instagram account that he was being treated for liver and kidney failure.
, lead singer of the Irish band The Cranberries, died in London on January 15, according to a statement from her publicist. She was 46. No details were immediately given on the cause of her death. The Cranberries rose to global fame in the mid-1990s with a string of hits, including "Linger," "Zombie" and "Dreams." The group has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide.
, the sportscaster whose rich voice and distinctive phrasing endeared him to generations of college football fans, died January 12, ESPN said in a news release. He was 89.
Jerry Van Dyke
, the younger brother of fellow comedian and actor Dick Van Dyke, died January 5 at his Arkansas ranch, his wife Shirley Ann Jones told CNN. He was 86. Jerry Van Dyke was known for several roles, most notably for playing the assistant football coach on the late '80s and '90s hit show "Coach," for which he earned four Emmy nominations. He also made appearances on his brother's classic sitcom "The Dick Van Dyke Show."
Former astronaut John Young
, a NASA trailblazer whose six journeys into space included a walk on the moon and the first space shuttle flight, died January 5 after complications from pneumonia, NASA said. He was 87.
Campbell attended St. Mark's African Methodist Episcopal Church, where Brown played piano and taught children how to play. Before her death, the church dedicated the piano to her.
Campbell described her as a "very quiet person, but spiritual, patient and very kind."
"Linda was a spiritual Christian woman that loved not only the Lord, but she loved her family and took on the responsibility of what Brown v. Board of Education meant to her. Her legacy will be that she shared all of her life with all of us," Campbell said.
She was also instrumental in one of the church day care programs, Campbell said.
"She would read books to children, she was all about children and education."
A 'normal' schoolchild who transformed the country
The court ruled in May 1954 that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal," a violation of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, which states that no citizen can be denied equal protection under the law.
Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP's special counsel and lead counsel for the plaintiffs, argued the case before the Supreme Court.
"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. She stands as an example of how ordinary schoolchildren took center stage in transforming this country," said Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel at NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
"It was not easy for her or her family, but her sacrifice broke barriers and changed the meaning of equality in this country."
The ruling overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, which established the separate but equal doctrine that formed the legal basis for Jim Crow laws. The court directed schools to desegregate "with all deliberate speed," but it failed to establish a firm timetable for doing so. The Supreme Court would outline the process of school desegregation in Brown II in 1955, but it would take years for schools across the nation to fully comply.
Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer on Monday acknowledged Brown's contribution to American history.
"Sixty-four years ago a young girl from Topeka brought a case that ended segregation in public schools in America. Linda Brown's life reminds us that sometimes the most unlikely people can have an incredible impact and that by serving our community we can truly change the world."
'I began to cry because it was so cold'
Brown was born in 1943, according to the National Archives. When her father joined the lawsuit, neighborhoods in Topeka were partially integrated, Brown said in a 1985 interview for the documentary series "Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years."
"I played with children that were Spanish-American. I played with children that were white, children that were Indian, and black children in my neighborhood," she said.
High schools and junior high schools were integrated, too, she said. The only schools that were not were elementary schools, including hers, Monroe Elementary School, she said.
In 1954, there were four African-American schools and 18 white schools in Topeka.
To reach the bus that carried her and her sisters 2 miles across town to the all-black school, she said she had to walk through railroad yards and across a busy avenue.
"I remember the walk as being very long at that time," she said in 1985. "And then when wintertime came, it was a very cold walk. I remember that. I remember walking, tears freezing up on my face, because I began to cry because it was so cold, and many times I had to turn around and run back home."
In 1950 her father, a welder and an associate pastor, joined the Topeka NAACP's legal challenge to a Kansas law that permitted racially segregated elementary schools in certain cities based on population. He attempted to enroll her in Sumner Elementary School in 1951.
"My father was like a lot of other black parents here in Topeka at that time. 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 in the 1985 interview.
"He felt that it was wrong for black people to have to accept second-class citizenship, and that meant being segregated in their schools, when in fact, there were schools right in their neighborhoods that they could attend, and they had to go clear across town to attend an all-black school. And this is one of the reasons that he became involved in this suit, because he felt that it was wrong for his child to have to go so far a distance to receive a quality education."
Monroe and Sumner elementary schools became National Historic Landmarks on May 4, 1987, according to the National Park Service. President George H.W. Bush signed the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site Act of 1992 on October 26, 1992, which established Monroe as a national park.