By Cleo E. Brown
Hallie Quinn Brown, who was an Educator, Lecturer, Civil Rights Activist, and a Human Rights Activist , worked against and beat the odds all of her life. Born on March 10th, 1848 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania she was the fifth of six children born to her parents named Frances Jane Scoggins and Thomas Arthur Brown. Both Frances Scoggins and Thomas Brown had been former slaves, yet were free at the time of Hallie’s birth. Thomas Brown, who was born in Frederick County, Maryland, bought his freedom on his twenty-fourth birthday. He also purchased the freedom of his family consisting of his sister, brother, and parents. Frances Scoggins-Brown was freed by her owner who was her mother’s grandfather, when she was an adolescent. Scoggins and Brown married each other in 1840 when Frances was twenty-two years old.
In spite of their status as a free people and a free family, it is important to remember that Hallie Quinn Brown was born during a period of time when slavery was, due to the invention of the Cotton Gin in 1794, entrenched with-in the Southern United States. By March of 1857 it is equally important to remember that the United States Supreme Court invalidated The Missouri Compromise claiming that Congress had not had the right to prohibit slavery in The Northern States.The Dred Scott Decision threatened, therefore, to entrench slavery in the United States for another one-hundred years. This means that the Brown Children, as free Black Children, were both isolated from other African-Americans as well as the victims of discrimination. Their particular situation did not improve when the Civil War erupted in April of 1861 since Haille’s father could no longer find work. Inspite of the climate of hostility, intimidation, and fear under which the young Hallie found herself, her parents owned a considerable amount of money and property which they acquired through hard work prior to the Civil War. Thomas Brown was a steward and an express agent for riverboats traveling between St. Louis, New Orleans, and Pittsburgh. He had also worked as a porter and as a conductor on the railroads. It was as the result of the money which the family had earned that Hallie and her sisters and her brothers were able to receive their education.
On the other hand, Hallie’s indoctrination into Civil Right’s Activism was also as the result of her experience with The Underground Railroad. According to Black Pioneers in Communication Research “The Brown Home often served as a station of the Underground Railroad, a haven for fugitive slaves traveling in search of freedom.” The Brown’s helped many of these escaped slaves reach the safety of Canada. Hallie Quinn Brown’s adoption of Human Right’s Policies was also born of her family’s involvement with The African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). It is said that ministers from the AME Church frequented the Brown Home to the extent that they had a special room called “the Bishop’s Room” inside of the Brown Family Home. (McFarlin, 1975, p. 15)
By 1864, although The Freedman’s Bureau had been established, The Emancipation Proclomation enacted in The Southern States, and The Civil War almost won The Brown Family was compelled to move to Chatham, Ontario, Canada because of Frances Brown’s failing health. This was because although The Brown’s lived in the North and were free, as the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery became apparent the Browns, as free and unprotected Blacks became pawns between pro-abolitionist and pro-slavery factions. Consequently, they were unable to obtain the appropriate medical care for Mrs. Brown. In addition, therefore, to her early education in Pennsylvania Hallie was educated from 1864 to 1870 in Ontario, Canada where her father worked as a farmer. When the family moved to Wilberforce, Ohio in 1870 Hallie Quinn Brown and her younger brother, named John, attended the AME College called Wilberforce University.
Inspite of her education, Hallie Brown did no benefit from the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment. The Reconstruction Amendments had, in 1965, freed all slaves in the United States; In 1968 all African-Americans were given equal access to the exercise of their civil rights by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment; and The Fifteenth Amendment gave all African-American Men the right to vote. No woman in the United States, however, had the right to vote in 1870 with the exception of the women of Wyoming in 1869. Hallie Quinn Brown, therefore, became a staunch proponent of Women’s Rights and an active member of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. She had seen women of prominence, such as Queen Victoria of England, consequently understanding that Women could accomplish much in their lives. She had also learned, once again, through her first-hand experience of working as a farm hand in Canada once her family’s Pittsburgh home was destroyed by fire during the Civil War,that women are strong and are capable of persevering.
Because The Brown Family Children experienced “prejudice and humiliation” in the educational systems of Canada just as they had in the United States it was decided that Hallie and her siblings would attend College at an African-American College when the family returned to the United States. Brown received her Bachelor’s Degree from Wilberforce University in 1873. She was also her class Valedictorian delivering her very first speech at her graduation in 1873.
Hallie Quinn Brown was extremely necessary as an educator in the Southern United States. Although the Freedman’s Bureau had been created in 1864 to educate the newly freed Blacks in the South, as Reconstruction came to a close so too did The Humanitarian Efforts of the Freedman’s Bureau. Consequently, Brown faced extremely poor living conditions, inadequate teaching facilities, and a high degree of illiteracy among the children and the adults. Hallie Brown wrote, “surrounding me was desolation, poverty and want glared at me.” (McFarlin, 1975, p. 32) Brown initially taught at Senora Plantation School in Mississippi and Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina where she became the Dean from 1875 to 1887. Brown was also the Dean of Women at Tuskegee University under the supervision of Booker T. Washington from 1892 thru 1893. Indeed, Brown and Washington, in addition to being colleagues, were distant cousins to each other.
In addition to her education, career, and expertise in the discipline of elocution , on which topic she wrote several books, Hallie Quinn Brown unlike the African-American people of her day traveled to Europe where she lectured, sang, recited poetry, and worked on behalf of both Women’s suffrage and British Temperance. She was presented to Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle both in 1897 and 1899. The Plessey versus Ferguson Decision, which implemented the policy of the segregation of the races from 1896 to 1954 began. The deteriorating state of affairs for African-Americans did not encourage Hallie Quinn Brown to return to the United States. Rather, she remained in Europe for five years where in 1895 she established a British Chataqua School in North Wales. When she returned to the United States it was as a Professor of elocution at Wilberforce University. She did return to Europe in 1910 where she delivered a speech in Edinburgh on behalf of the AME and The Women’s Missionary Society. She also worked on behalf of the British Geneological and Geographical Societies.
Hallie Quinn Brown wrote or collaborated on at least nine books during her lifetime. While several of the books she wrote were histories, many of her manuscripts had, as its subject matter, the art of elocution. She also belonged to many organizations throughout her life including The Republican Party. Her Club memberships gave to Brown a sense of sorority and inclusion in the world which, because of her education, status as an educator; lecturer; and writer, and her race otherwise would have forced her to live in isolation.
~Cleo Brown is a moderate Republican who works as an Instructor and as The Dean of Student Affairs in a GED Preparation Program in Chelsea. Cleo has a Master’s Degree in Contemporary African-American History from The University of California at Davis and has done work on a Ph.D. in Education at The University of San Francisco in San Francisco, California. Cleo has also published several poems and is a featured artists in The International Poetry Library’s Who’s Who in Poetry.