For nine decades, Our State has made its way into homes across North Carolina, the United States, and the world. To celebrate, every month this year, we’re paying tribute to
For nine decades, Our State has made its way into homes across North Carolina, the United States, and the world. To celebrate, every month this year, we’re paying tribute to the readers who inspire us, offering a taste of our earliest recipes, and revisiting old stories with new insights. Follow along to find out how our past has shaped our present.
You don’t usually find “activist” and “soft-spoken” in the same sentence, or person. Yet here is Alice Brown, who left Mocksville to attend Woman’s College, now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, in 1961. She went thanks to a high school guidance counselor, who persuaded Alice to enroll at an integrated college rather than a historically Black school, as several other top Black classmates planned to do. A National Merit Scholar and recipient of a North Carolina teachers loan, Alice was one of only six African American students in her freshman class. “The campus was mostly welcoming, and integrated academically,” she says, “yet we weren’t allowed in any of the businesses — the soda shop, the cinema — on Tate Street. So we petitioned, picketed, and boycotted on the Tate Street sidewalk.” Though Alice had grown up in “a family that was politically aware, all members of the NAACP from its inception,” public protests were “out of my comfort zone,” she says. By the fall of 1963, the businesses were open to Black people.
Alice graduated in 1965 with a degree in music education, married a United Methodist minister, and started teaching in Greensboro just as her assigned school began integration. Then and there, and at every school she taught at until her retirement in 2001, she worked — quietly but resolutely — to combat racism. Around the school hallways, she hung photographs from a bicentennial calendar that featured a notable Black individual every month. For a Christmas presentation, she cast a Black Santa Claus. “People loved that chubby Black fellow,” she says. In the 1970s, at a school whose mascot was a Confederate general and where Confederate flags were sold at fundraisers, Alice taught the chorus to sing the ’50s folk song “Black and White,” then newly recorded by the pop group Three Dog Night:
The ink is black, the page is white.
Together we learn to read and write.
A child is black, a child is white.
The whole world looks upon the sight.
A beautiful sight.
“A parent came up and thanked me afterward,” she says. Not that there weren’t hard experiences that she remembers, but, she says with a smile, “The positives outweigh the negatives.”
Alice was introduced to Our State in 2007, when her friend, accompanist, and fellow Woman’s College 1965 alum drove with her to UNCG’s annual Founders Day luncheon. “She had several magazines in the car, and she gave them to me,” Alice says, and that was that. “I can’t throw them away,” she says, and she makes sure to scrawl “keep” on the covers whenever her son borrows them. She even has a 75th-anniversary issue that she discovered at a thrift store.
At 79, after years of accolades and awards, trusteeships and directorships, never mind dozens of letters to editors, Alice keeps advocating for racial equality. “My husband is almost getting used to it,” she says wryly, adding, “I didn’t tell him I was going to a recent Black Lives Matter rally, and there I was in the newspaper, wearing my T-shirt.” She giggles.
Alice Brown is a mother of two, a former teacher and a musician, a soft-spoken activist who quotes St. Francis of Assisi. And she’s an Our State reader.