Remembering one of Brookhaven’s greats

Published 1:29 pm Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Sometimes it is far too easy to forget the interesting people of the past whose giant steps and efforts chartered a path for those who came after them. The children, family and friends of Cecil Brown, remember, tell and live the story of a dedicated and influential citizen, neighbor and mother.

Brown was the first African American to write a column – entitled Brookhaven News – for the Daily Leader. At the same time, according to her granddaughter Phyllis L. Miller, she wrote a column for the Mississippi Enterprise, a weekly newspaper in Jackson.

Upon receiving a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Alcorn A & M, Brown taught school for 30 years in rural schools near Brookhaven. Miller said after retiring, Brown taught kindergarten until her health failed.

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Born in Hinds County, Brown’s family moved to Brookhaven when she was young during the Pearl River Lumber Company days. Throughout her years in the Brookhaven community, Brown served as president of the PTA at Alexander High School under the administration of A.A. Alexander, was one of the co-signers on the note for the first gymnasium for African Americans in south Mississippi at Alexander High. Miller said Brown served as chairman of the publicity committee in the Bertha L. Johnson Literary and Garden Club. She was a member of the Kynette Pilgrim United Methodist Church where she served as Sunday school teacher, daily vacation bible school director, Sunday school superintendent, president of the Women’s Missionary Society and member of the choir.

Brown had six children from her marriage to Lemuel M. Brown. One of their children died young. The remaining five earned advanced degrees, and all became educators. The youngest child, daughter Frances J. Brown taught in the Chicago Public School System and upon returning to Brookhaven taught social studies at Eva Harris Middle School. Upon retirement Frances started, owned and operated a kindergarten near her home on Lincoln Street.

Brown’s youngest son, Roscoe S. Brown, eared a master’s from Cornell University and began teaching at Anderson High School in Austin, Texas. After moving up the chain to assistant principal at the school, Roscoe worked for 30 years as an assistant professor of biology at Grambling State University in Louisiana.

Miller said Brown’s son, John Henry Brown, received an advanced degree in pharmacy from Xavier University in New Orleans. After that he taught mathematics and science at Alcorn State University, Grambling State University and at Prentice Institute until his health ended his career. Miller said John was an excellent carpenter who provided services to many people in Brookhaven.

Brown’s third son, Lemuel R. Brown, received a master’s in education from the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Throughout his education career, Lemuel was the vocational/agricultural teacher at Alexander High School, principal of Inverness Junior High School in the Delta before working as principal for Gentry High School in Indianola for 18 years and 14 more years as a guidance counselor for the school.

Miller said all three of Brown’s sons served in the military. Lemuel served in the U.S. Army during World War II and was awarded the good conduct medal. John was a seaman during his years in service, and Roscoe served in the Armed Forces.

Brown’s oldest daughter, Alice B. Smith earned a master’s degree in elementary supervision and administration from Tuskegee University and became a Jeanes Supervisor in Copiah County. The Jeanes Supervisors were a group of professionals focused on the educational well being of children across the Southern states and supported through a philanthropic endowment from a Pennsylvania Quaker woman named Anna T. Jeanes. Smith wrote a book about her endeavors called “Forgotten Foundations: The Role of Jeanes Teachers in Black Education.” Smith’s other accomplishments include a doctorate from Walden University and study at Harvard University, assistant professor at Alcorn A & M College, principal of Alcorn A & M College Laboratory School, teacher in Lincoln County Schools and multiple educational administration positions at Grambling State University in Louisiana. Smith also published a myriad of other writings in newspapers, journals and another book entitled “1952 Newtonian Yearbook” a pictorial book on Newton County’s Negro Schools.

Josie Hightower said Cecil Brown lived across the street from her and has many stories about Brown, her family and their combined accomplishments. Hightower said that all of Brown’s children are deceased with Smith dying in 2007.

The history of Brookhaven is rich with the histories of dedicated and intellectual African American citizens. These histories can be found in the oral stories passed down from parents, grandparents and event great-grandparents. All it takes is a good listening ear or maybe a pencil and paper so that those stories aren’t forgotten.