Livingstone employee was part of 1963 March
Earl Brown Jr. didn’t travel to Washington, D.C., over the weekend to attend the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
On Aug. 28, 1963, Brown was in D.C. for the real thing.
“I’m an only child, and my mother asked me why I was going because she was concerned for my safety,” said Brown, director of the International Program at Livingstone College. “I told her I felt I must go so that years later my children wouldn’t have to go.”
Fifty years ago, Brown and about 250,000 other people converged on Washington to demand better jobs and freedom. It was then that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Brown, a junior at Morgan State University in Baltimore at the time, remembers the day like it was yesterday.
“It was a pleasant day weather-wise,” Brown recalled. “I had to park 18 blocks from the Memorial and walk, but I wasn’t scared because I didn’t see anybody who looked like they were coming to cause problems. I saw families. I saw mainly young people. I saw union workers. It was historic just to be on the grounds.”
Brown, 23 at the time, said he’ll never forget hearing King’s voice as he talked about his dreams and hopes for America. Though he’d heard King speak once before at Morgan State, nothing could have prepared him for that day or the emotions he’d experience.
“With all of those people you could still hear a pin drop when Dr. King was speaking,” Brown said. “I was standing near the reflecting pool, and it was so quiet I could hear the waves of water.”
Brown said he was impressed by King’s use of the language. “His ability to phrase and to use language to tell a story is excellent,” Brown said. “For me, the phrase about wanting his four little children to be judged by the content of their character versus the color of their skin is a part of what the struggle is all about. Judge me by my character, by what I do, by my contributions. Unfortunately, everyone in the nation has not yet learned that.”
Brown said after King’s speech he joined his parents, Earl Brown, Sr. and Bertha C. Brown, at the D.C. home of his aunt, Beatrice Carrington. The three were waiting with dinner and plenty of questions.
A year after the historic civil rights demonstration, Brown earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and history, with a minor in economics, from Morgan State. He later earned a master’s degree in urban planning from Hunter College CUNY and has done doctoral study in regional economic planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
A former Peace Corps employee, Brown has served as a middle school teacher in a remote part of the Republic of Tanzania, an East African country. He has been to 27 of Africa’s 56 countries and worked in various capacities on four continents.
Today Brown is focused on creating opportunities for Livingstone students and faculty to study abroad and on recruiting international students to attend the college, which was founded in 1879 by the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
“The 21st Century offers new challenges and horizons for students attending Livingstone and other HBCUs,” Brown said. “Dr. Jenkins has astutely recognized the global challenges and opportunities for today’s graduates, who must be competitive nationally and globally to succeed. I’m working hard to help students understand the benefits of studying abroad, and I’m also trying to interest students from other countries in coming here.”
In June, through Brown’s efforts and Jenkins’ support, Livingstone students Jimmy McNeil and Askia Abdul-Rahman spent 10 days in Peru studying under Dr. Lane Rolling in an internship for students who are interested in science and medicine.
“The students were placed in a hospital in Iquitos, Peru, and they were able to see injuries and illnesses up close and to participate by making rounds with the doctors,” Brown said. “Another part of their experience involved taking an overnight boat trip on The Amazon River to administer primary health care to Native Americans, and both Jimmy and Askia say it was a career-changing experience.”
Brown said he’s thankful for the progress that has been made in America since 1963. When he marched on Washington 50 years ago, he couldn’t have imagined students from historically black colleges and universities getting the opportunities they enjoy today – like spending 10 days studying in a foreign country.
But Brown is careful to point out that while conditions have improved for African-Americans, “the economics for people of color haven’t significantly changed.”
Still, Brown and his wife, Mary Ann, are hopeful the country will continue making strides in the right direction. As he watched on TV Wednesday afternoon as President Barack Obama delivered a speech in front of the steps of Lincoln Memorial – the same place King delivered his famous speech 50 years ago – Brown thought about his grandchildren, Donovan Brown, 14, a freshman at Ardrey Kell High School in Charlotte, Taylor Mullins, 14, a freshman at J.H. Rose High School in Greenville, N.C., and Mason Mullins, 20, a junior at UNC Pembroke.
“Even though African-Americans are still fighting today for some of the same things we fought for 50 years ago, there’s no doubt things have gotten better,” Brown said. “And I continue to encourage my grandchildren, the students here at Livingstone College and African-American students everywhere to get their education.
“Dr. Jenkins constantly says education is the surest vehicle to upward mobility in the world, and that’s so true because history has shown us that educated people fare better in society than those who are not,” Brown continued. “When we marched 50 years ago it was only nine years after separate but equal was ruled unconstitutional. There’s just no excuse for today’s children not to take advantage of every educational opportunity afforded them.”