Millicent Brown Helped Desegregate Public Schools In South Carolina. Now She’s Sharing Her Civil Rights Journey In A New Book

J. Henry Fair

The U.S. Supreme Court declared that legal racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional through Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. However, despite this ruling, public schools took years to integrate.

In South Carolina, school desegregation did not begin until 1963, when Judge Robert Martin ruled in Millicent Brown et al v. Charleston County School Board, District 20, to approve requests from Black students to be admitted to white schools. In fact, the Palmetto State was one of the last states in the country to desegregate schools.

“You’re learning very early that this thing we call Civil Rights is no easy matter…What people need to understand is that in South Carolina and all of its elected officials and administrators decided we don’t care what the Supreme Court says and we are going to resist this as much as we can and they did,” said Brown.

In Millicent Brown’s case, Judge Robert Martin ruled that Black students’ requests to be admitted to white schools must be approved. However, because this ruling occurred within two weeks of when the school term started, only the chief plaintiffs, 11 Black elementary, middle, and high school students, including then 15-year-old Brown, were admitted to attend.

In later years, Brown would go on to add a Dr. to her name, earning a Ph.D. in U.S. history and writing her dissertation about the history of civil rights in her home city of Charleston. Now retired, Brown was a former associate professor at Claflin University as well as other prominent institutions of higher education. A lifelong advocate for equality and equity, Brown continues to fight for social justice today.

In April, over 60 years after her court case, Brown released a book, “Another Sojourner Looking for Truth: My Journey From Civil Rights to Black Power and Beyond.” In this memoir, Brown explores “her fears and doubts, as well as the challenges of being a teenager expected to ‘represent the race’ and combat negative stereotypes of African Americans. Readers also gain perspective on the interpersonal aspects of white backlash to civil rights progress and strategic machinations within the movement.

Acclaimed actor and activist Samuel L. Jackson had rave reviews for her memoir, stating, “Millie Brown’s love for her people made her a force to be reckoned with—and her knowledge was always unquestionably on point. Sharing her journey and insights will surely paint a picture of the American dream as only a free woman of color and a child of the ’60s could.”

“When I was writing the book, one thing drove me: I don’t believe in iconic images. What’s real is the grappling, the struggle. I’m not brave or special, but I never stop being curious and moving on,” Brown said in an interview with Post and Courier.  

With the courts continuing to hand down decisions that impact American lives, and many of the recent rulings disproportionately impacting communities of color, ultimately, Brown wanted to ensure that these cases are humanized. “All the civil rights cases (including M. Brown et al v. Charleston School District No. 20, 1963) need explaining as personal events.”

As Brown told ESSENCE, “I, and other ‘first children’ trying to do the adult work of changing society, need to be seen as more than legal cases—our humanity and vulnerability must be recognized first.”

In fact, Brown sees her case as incredibly relevant and being inextricably intertwined with the Black Lives Matter movement of today. “The idea of Black lives NOT mattering dates back to legalized human bondage, through decades of discrimination, to thwarted attempts at public access to quality education and ultimately criminal injustice,” continued Brown, adding, “It’s more than a slogan, and must continuously be sought in all arenas.”

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