March 2014

Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown


Charlotte Hawkins Brown – advocate for equality, trailblazer for African-Americans, educational pioneer and “First Lady of Social Graces” – personified dedication combined with kindness.

Born in Henderson in 1883, the granddaughter of a slave soon learned that education was the best way to advance. Brown attended school in Massachusetts, where she met Alice Freeman Palmer, an educator and leading activist for women’s higher education who became Brown’s mentor and supporter.

Returning to North Carolina, Brown launched her mission to help Southern African-Americans pursue educational equality and opened the Palmer Memorial Institute (PMI) in Sedalia, near Greensboro, in 1902 Brown believed in a well-rounded education and developed a holistic program at PMI.

It included training in social graces, which she called “one means of turning the wheels of progress with greater velocity on the upward road to equal opportunity for all.”

“Often, the only thing remembered about her is that she founded PMI,” said Kara Deadmon, Assistant Site Manager of the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum. “However, she was an educator as well as an advocate for equality a racial advocate, a real proponent for change and for North Carolina.

Brown helped ignite the African-American women’s movement as one of the founders of the North Carolina State Federation of Women’s Clubs of North Carolina, which brought together civic, religious and social groups to fight for racial and gender equality.

When Brown stepped down as president of PMI  in 1952, nine years before her death, PMI had graduated more than 1,000 students and was a fully accredited, nationally recognized preparatory school.

PMI closed in 1971, but in 1987 its campus became the first state historic site commemorating the contributions of African-Americans to North Carolina’s history.

Every year, tens of thousands of visitors visit the museum and Brown’s home, explore the school, and discover the place that spurred students to be both intellectual and gracious.