Linda Brown lived to be 75 years old, but she had secured her place in history by the time she was 9. Brown, who died in her hometown of Topeka, Kan., this week, was at the center of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that caused school segregation to be declared unconstitutional, CBS News reports. Her father, the Rev. Oliver Brown, sued the school district because his daughter wanted to go to the Sumner School four blocks away from her house with her white friends instead of being bused to a school 20 blocks away because she was black. "I didn't comprehend color of skin," she later said, per the Washington Post. "I only knew that I wanted to go to Sumner."
Segregation of "white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect," the Supreme Court said in its unanimous ruling, striking down the "separate but equal" doctrine that had stood since 1896. Later in life, Brown worked as a teacher. She remained active in the civil rights movement. In 1979, when her own children were in Topeka schools, she was a plaintiff in a revived Brown v. Board of Education case, arguing that the district hadn't fully followed through on desegregation, the Topeka Capital-Journal reports. "A young girl from Topeka brought a case that ended segregation in public schools in America," said Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer. Her 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." (Read more desegregation stories.)