Dr. Millicent Ellison Brown, activist-historian currently living in Charleston, is a retired professor of history from North Carolina A&T State University. She received a doctorate from Florida State University, completing her Ph.D. thesis on the history of civil rights activism in Charleston from 1940 to 1970; other professional roles have included professorships at Bennett College, Guilford College, Claflin University, and she has served as Director of Exhibits and Museum Education at the Avery Research Center at College of Charleston.
In 1963, Millicent Brown became the lead plaintiff in a NAACP-sponsored lawsuit to desegregate the Charleston public schools where she would become one of the “first children” to desegregate public schools in our state: specifically, she was one of two African American students to enroll at Rivers High School. Dr. Brown’s father, J. Arthur Brown, was the local and state president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; she credits having been born into an activist household during the height of the civil rights movement for her lifelong commitment to progressive social change, supplemented by her years of community service as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Her career has been devoted to addressing misconceptions of school desegregation, introducing a more thoughtful consideration of Briggs v Elliott and the Brown decision, and engaging students and faculty in appreciating connections between the school desegregation process and the current crisis in black education today. Knowing the deeply personal struggles of “first children” and recognizing that many of these students who sought to desegregate schools during the 1960s had been overlooked, in 2006 she initiated “Somebody Had To Do It,” a collaborative, multi-institutional project to identify and collect oral histories from individuals who were the first black students to desegregate all-white schools during the twentieth century civil rights movement.
The University of South Carolina Museum of Education
Chester C. Travelstead Award for Courage in Education
presented to Millicent E. Brown
in recognition of her leadership in South Carolina to further the values of integrity, intellectual spirit, justice, and stewardship and, in so doing, allowing schools to become more compassionate, more generous, more humane, and more thoughtful.
“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” Maya Angelou
The Travelstead Incident
“Here and now, in the summer of 1955, we find ourselves faced with the necessity of making many momentous decisions with respect to the schools in this country. Perhaps at no other time in the history of education has so great a sense of gravity and urgency characterized the action concerning schools which is being taken and which must be taken in the near future.”
This statement from a speech, “Today’s Decision for Tomorrow’s Schools,” by the Dean of the USC College of Education, Chester C. Travelstead, expressed his support for the Brown and Briggs v Elliott decisions. Travelstead went on to say, “Education takes place in many ways. Our children can be educated to deceit and chicanery, as well as they can be educated to integrity and loyalty. This education, of course, is not confined to the schools or homes. These children learn from everything they see and hear. In this crucial matter which faces us all in 1955, our children will learn much by observation of our words and deeds.”
Three weeks later, he received a letter from the USC Board of Trustees dismissing him from the university. He was subsequently hired by the University of New Mexico as dean of education, and Newsweek magazine, in 1955, reported, “the president of the New Mexico institution, said: ‘Dr. Travelstead’s troubles in South Carolina were more of a recommendation than an indictment.’” Travelstead stayed for the remainder of his career at the University of New Mexico, ultimately serving as the provost of that institution.
Reflecting upon this incident in 1983, Dr. Travelstead wrote, “What happened to me personally in South Carolina in 1955 is not highly important—except to me; but it was both illustrative and symbolic of the turmoil in the Deep South at mid-century. And this event, if put in proper perspective, could serve as a warning about what can and does happen to people when the rights, hopes, and opportunities for any group—or for even one person—are thwarted or violated. As for me, I hold no bitterness toward any individual or group of individuals in the Deep South.”