FW: ANB - Bio of the Day [Alabamian Letitia C.W. Brown]
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Brown, Letitia Christine Woods (24 Oct. 1915-3 Aug. 1976), historian,
was born in Tuskegee, Alabama, the daughter of Matthew Woods
and Evadne Adams, professors. Her maternal grandfather, Lewis
Adams, was born a slave and after the Civil War was instrumental
in establishing the Tuskegee Normal School in 1881. Letitia's
parents both taught at Tuskegee Institute, continuing the family's
commitment to education. Letitia attended Tuskegee Institute
High School and graduated with a B.S. from Tuskegee Institute
in 1935. In 1937 she completed her M.A. at Ohio State University.
While working on her advanced degree at Radcliffe College, she
married Theodore E. Brown, a labor economist who later worked
for the Agency for International Development in the U.S. Department
of State. After raising two children and becoming involved in
community projects in Mount Vernon, New York, she attended Harvard
University, which awarded her a Ph.D. in 1966.
As a historian, Letitia Woods Brown sought to educate people,
in a variety of forums, about the African-American experience
and race relations. Her career as a teacher began in 1935 when
she taught in the segregated Macon County school system in Alabama.
She then returned to Tuskegee, where she taught from 1937 to
1940. From 1940 to 1945 she was an instructor at another black
college, LeMoyne College in Memphis, and from 1961 to 1970 she
taught at Howard University, where she served on several committees,
including the committee to establish the Department of Afro-American
Studies. In 1968 she became a Fulbright professor in Australia
at Monash University and Australia National University. After
brief teaching stints at Georgetown University and Goucher College,
in 1971 she became the only full-time black faculty member in
the College of Arts and Sciences at George Washington University.
Throughout her career, she taught courses in U.S. history and
African-American history. At George Washington University, she
promoted interracial educational experiences by encouraging graduate
students from George Washington and Howard Universities to take
courses at both institutions. While at George Washington, Brown
also helped develop a course on the history of the District of
Columbia. Emphasizing local rather than federal history, the
course was a model for other interdisciplinary classes within the
Brown also taught outside the traditional classroom setting.
In 1961 she instructed the first group of Peace Corps volunteers,
eventually assigned to Ghana. For teacher in-service projects
in Maryland and Virginia, she helped develop educational materials
on blacks and other minorities. In 1972-1973 she served as the
only historian on the National Assessment of Educational Progress's
panel that set objectives for congressionally mandated tests
for precollegiate students in social studies. Brown also was
a professor at the Federal Executive Institute (1970-1973), after
which she conducted training programs for the Federal Executive
Institute, including the Department of Agriculture.
Brown's writing reflected her interest in reaching audiences
beyond academe and her commitment to studying the local history
of the District of Columbia. With coauthor Elsie M. Lewis, Brown
wrote Washington from Banneker to Douglass, 1791-1870 and Washington
in the New Era, 1870-1970, which accompanied a two-part exhibition
on African Americans at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian
Institution, in Washington, D.C., 1971-1972. Her major work,
Free Negroes in the District of Columbia, 1790-1846, was published
in 1972. Historian Benjamin Quarles said of the work: "In language
as concise and conclusive as the court records she has searched,
Professor Brown traces the ways--many of them novel--in which
blacks in the District moved from slavery to freedom." Brown's
other writing included an essay on residential patterns of African
Americans in the District of Columbia and an article entitled
"Why and How the Negro in History," published in the fall 1969
issue of the Journal of Negro Education.
Brown also promoted awareness of African-American history and
racial issues through her work in the local community, on public
history projects, and at international history conferences. As
vice chair of the Joint Committee on Landmarks of the National
Capital, Brown broadened the committee's interpretation of its
criteria for designating landmarks by promoting the recognition
of sites important to the history of African-American residents,
which had been ignored by previous committees. As consultant
to the Capitol Historical Society, she advocated the inclusion
of the contributions of many groups, including the slaves who
built the structure, in the historical narrative of the Capitol.
She served on the Advisory Board of the Schlesinger Library on
the History of Women in America at Radcliffe College and helped
the library initiate the Black Women Oral History Project, which
eventually interviewed seventy-two African-American women and
published the transcripts in ten volumes in 1990. Her work with
the Bicentennial Committee on International Conferences of Americanists
led to the African Regional American Studies Conference in Lagos,
Nigeria, in 1976. She served on the Advisory Committee on Historical
Research for the Columbia Historical Society, helping it become
more knowledgeable of local African-American history, and was
a cofounder of the annual conference on Washington, D.C., Historic
Studies. Her other professional affiliations included membership
on the executive board of the National Humanities Institute at
Yale University; the National Archives Advisory Council; and
the review board of the American Historical Association, which
oversaw the restructuring of that organization in the early 1970s.
Brown died of cancer at her home in Washington, D.C. Throughout
her life, she used her expertise as a historian both in academe
and in public arenas to increase awareness of the history of
African Americans in the United States. She encouraged the
of U.S. history both locally and nationally to include the historical
experience of blacks, and she helped redefine the ways in which
that history was conceptualized. Brown saw herself as "both historian
and futurist. I suppose I shall continue to grapple with it--with
a growing awareness that the way we organize and present data
helps shape the way people think, that how we teach is as important
as what we teach."
Some of Brown's papers are in the Special Collections at the
Melvin Gelman Library, George Washington University, and the
Radcliffe College Archives, which include an article by Brown,
"Something for Me, My Family, the Race, and Mankind," Radcliffe
College Quarterly (Mar. 1974): 17-19. For Roderick French's tribute
at her memorial service, see "Letitia Woods Brown, 1915-1976,"
Records of the Columbia Historical Society of Washington, D.C.
50 (1980): 522-24. Obituaries are in the New York Times and the
Washington Post, 5 August 1976.
Back to the top
Noralee Frankel. "Brown, Letitia Christine Woods";
American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
Copyright (c) 2000 American Council of Learned Societies. Published
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