dr. charlotte hawkins brown

Here’s another great story.  This woman was amazing.  I can imagine no nobler task than “establishing for Negro youth something superior to Jim Crowism.”  Her influence must have been so great on those she encountered.  I would love to talk with her about today’s “negro youth.”  What she would have imagined and hoped things would be like in 2009 and how that differs from the current reality.  

Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown


Above is a photo from her wedding in 1912.
[b. 1870 – d. 1961]

Charlotte Hawkins Brown was born in Henderson, North Carolina, but grew up in Massachusetts after her family moved from the South. She was educated in Boston and had planned to finish her college education when two events changed her life.

First, she met Alice Freeman Palmer, a prominent New England woman, who was so impressed by Hawkins’ determination to get an education that she became Brown’s benefactor. Then, in 1901, Brown returned to the South to teach in a country school that was supported by a Northern missionary society in the town of Sedalia, North Carolina.

Quote: “I have devoted my life to establishing for Negro youth something superior to Jim Crowism”

She arrived during the worst years of the Jim Crow era. Blacks had been disfranchised as well as segregated and there was little money available for black schools. When the school’s funding ended after two years, Brown decided to remain in Sedalia to start her own school. She went north to raise money and returned with $100, which she used to open the Palmer Memorial Institute, an academic and industrial school for African Americans, in 1902.

Brown’s life was a balancing act. She passionately hated segregation and continually sought ways around it. When she went to town to visit her doctor or lawyer, she would arrange to enter into their office immediately upon her arrival. Thus, she avoided sitting in the Jim Crow section of the waiting room. When her students went to the movies or other cultural events, she would rent the theater for the day so that they did not have to sit in the “colored” section.

To raise funds for the school, she wrote letters to potential supporters. Her students learned French, Latin, and other academic subjects. Brown prepared her students to be leaders of their race.

In addition to building her school, Charlotte Hawkins Brown was active in the women’s club and suffragist movements. She later became president of the North Carolina Association of Colored Women’s Clubs, and she helped organize voter registration drives for black women and tried to get white club women to back suffrage for black women.

She saw herself as part of the freedom struggle that was taking place in the black community. The Palmer Institute became an educational success and remained open until a decade after her death, in 1961.

Charles W. Wadelington and Richard F. Knapp, ‘Charlotte Hawkins Brown and Palmer Memorial Institute; What One Young African American Woman Could Do.’


7 thoughts on “dr. charlotte hawkins brown

  1. I actually cover the town were Palmer was founded for my paper. She led an extraordinary life. What is awesome for me is I have interviewed several of her former students about what she was like and they all agree that Dr. Brown didn’t play. She was Joe Clark before Joe Clark.
    Palmer is now a museum dedicated to Dr. Brown and her legacy at Palmer. The state is about to redo a lot of the buildings that are left on that site to accomodate more tourists.
    If you guys are ever in N.C. and on your way through on Interstate 40, you should stop by. You’ll probably see Barbara at the front when you get there. Her family has a long history there and she can tell you alllllll about it and Dr. Brown.
    Nice post, Tiff!

  2. wow! thanks so much for sharing! i will get there someday. it may take a while. hopefully barbara will still be there. thanks again!

  3. Although the institution which Dr. Brown established and built to a premier institutiion has closed, Her purpose remains in the lives of the former students. In Las Vegas, NV in October 28-November 1, 2012 nearly 100 former students gathered to remember their high school founder, President and deceased alumni.
    All attendees shared a common love and appreciation for each other and what (values for life,( Culture and education) Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown instilled in their lives.
    Class of 1947

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