Dr. Leslie Brown, a well-known scholar of African-American and American women’s history, passed away over the weekend after a battle with cancer.
Brown, who had been on the faculty of Williams College since 2008, had experience both as a highly sought-after professor and a skilled college administrator.
At Skidmore College, she directed the Higher Education Opportunity Program for many years. She earned a Ph.D. in history from Duke University. From 1990 to 1995, she co-coordinated “Behind the Veil: Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South,” a collaborative research and curriculum project at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke.
“She was boisterous in all the best ways, wonderfully complex, and impressively free of pretense,” says Dr. Adam Falk, president of Williams College, located in Western Massachusetts. “She was devoted to the essential work of moving forward this institution together with students, faculty and the administration. And she led by example, showing her students the importance of history and context in advancing a cause. She also was incredibly warm and caring, mentoring junior faculty, giving valuable feedback to colleagues on their manuscripts and supporting students through difficult times.”
Falk said that, at Williams, Brown taught a variety of history courses focused on race, gender and documentary studies. Her first book, Upbuilding Black Durham: Gender, Class, and Black Community Development in the Jim Crow South, won the Organization of American Historians’ Frederick Jackson Turner Award.
Before coming to Williams, Brown had taught at Washington University in St. Louis. After she was denied tenure from Washington University in 2007, a diverse coalition of several hundred students unsuccessfully petitioned the administration, urging them to reconsider Brown’s tenure. They argued that the popular professor was a valued asset to the university — particularly a university with a miniscule number of tenured Black professors.
At Williams, Falk says that Brown was “admired by her colleagues here and everywhere, and beloved by her students as an inspirational professor who gave back to them at least as much as she demanded.”
She is survived by her partner Dr. Annie Valk, who is associate director for public humanities and a lecturer in history at Williams.
Jamal Eric Watson can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter @jamalericwatson.