Self Awareness Vehicle Who Are You
The Great Educator Charlotte Brown
Charlotte Hawkins Brown 1883-1961
Charlotte Hawkins was born in 1883 to Caroline Frances Hawkings and Edmund H. Hight, a brick mason, in Henderson, North Carolina. Charlotte never knew her father, therefore, she used her mother’s maiden name. When Charlotte was about 7 years old, her mother took her to Massachusetts, where living conditions were better for blacks. Charlotte blossomed in her new environment, showing enough early self-confidence and ability to be chosen speaker at her grammar school graduation ceremony in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She would later recall that these years were unscarred by racial prejudice. In fact, her high school principal remained a lifetime friend and supporter.
Although Hawkins hoped to attend Radcliffe College, a liberal arts school in Cambridge, she realized the practical advantages of becoming a teacher. So, she enrolled in Massachusetts State Normal School in Salem. It was at this point in her life that she met an influential mentor, Alice Freeman Palmer, President of Wellesley College in Massachusetts. It was Palmer who introduced Hawkins to people who could help her, and it was in honor of Palmer that Hawkins would later name her school.
The humble origins of Palmer Memorial Institute began in Sedalia, North Carolina, in 1902, one year after Hawkins’ college graduation. It would remain under her leadership until 1952, and her financial direction until 1955. From a classroom in an old church and a dormitory in a log cabin, Palmer would grow to 14 modern buildings valued at more than one million dollars. This achievement was accomplished by aggressively soliciting the support of blacks and whites, both in the South and in the North. Major support was given, for example, by black businesswoman Madame C.J. Walker, and the Julius Rosenwald Fund.
Palmer’s preparatory school for girls stressed the importance of manners and culture in achieving racial progress. In pursuit of this, the school sponsored exchange programs with schools for young white women. Hawkins believed her school was one of the first places in North Carolina where the races could mingle.
In 1911, Hawkins married Edmund S. Brown. Although childless, they reared six children of relatives, including Charlotte Brown’s niece, Maria, who later married Nat “King” Cole. To the responsibilities, Brown added her own education. She studied at Harvard in Cambridge, Simmons College in Boston, and Temple University in Philadelphia. She received her college degree from Wellesley, where she was later elected an honorary member of the Wellesley College Alumnae Association.
Honorary degrees were awarded to Brown from North Carolina State College, Wilberforce University, Lincoln University, and Howard University. In addition to being an outstanding educator, Brown was a national women’s leader. She was a founder of the North Carolina State Federation of Negro Women’s Clubs, a Vice-President of the National Association of Colored Women, and President of the North Carolina Negro State Teachers Association.
Brown’s belief that interracial contracts were necessary to advance the education of black youths led her to become a founder of the Commission of International Cooperation in 1919. Charlotte Hawkings Brown died on January 11, 1961, and financial difficulties closed Palmer Institute in 1971. But, Brown had left mark on many black women who benefitted from her crusade for “race pride, mutual respect, sympathetic understanding, and interracial goodwill.”
Excerpt from A Salute to Historic Black Educators
This is only a summary of Charlotte Brown’s life.