Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown was a prominent African American educator who, in 1902, founded the Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, NC (in eastern Guilford County). Due to its proximity to Greensboro, there was an established relationship between Brown, the Palmer Memorial Institute, and the educational leaders at the school now known as UNCG. In the Summer of 1924, Brown spoke on "inter-racial relations" at the annual YWCA Conference attended by many students from Greensboro. Some alumni recall the Sedalia Singers, the Palmer Memorial Institute's traveling choir, performing at the mandatory chapel sessions.
|Brown in 1912|
Brown faced constant challenges to retain adequate funding for her school. While the school had a strong performing arts curriculum, students lacked an appropriate venue for local performances, and, because of the strict Jim Crow segregation laws in North Carolina, they were forced to travel to northern U.S. cities in order to attend the top-notch musical performances she wished them to experience. On July 22, 1928, she wrote to Wade Brown, head of the school of music of what was then the North Carolina College for Women (now UNCG) asking if her Institute might use the newly-constructed Aycock Auditorium as a venue for their annual concert. She wrote, "I always have tried to make friends of my neighbors, and it hurts me to feel that there is no place in Greensboro where we can give our program." Her request was denied, based on the state's strict rules regarding segregation in public buildings.
|Aycock Auditorium interior at the 1930 Commencement|
Brown, however, declined the offer, noting that after talking with Jackson and other educators she felt "that perhaps after all it will be better for us and our students to forgo the pleasure and inspiration of the fine music for the time being." She felt uncomfortable with the segregated seating arrangement, feeling that her students may think that she asked specifically for this seating arrangement. After thought, however, she stated, "I asked for the opportunity of hearing the music. It would be impossible to hear it in North Carolina without accepting segregation."
|Jackson in 1948|
Two years later, however, Brown was forced to write Jackson again, this time asking for a block of 50 seats, "segregated as offered." Her budget no longer allowed for the students to travel to New York City and Boston for any performances. While she was adamantly opposed to segregation, she wrote that "the souls of Negroes are starving for fine music." She saw musical performances as integral components of her students' education. And she optimistically wrote that, "when this segregation is wiped away, as it is going to be in public places of this kind within twenty-five years, leaders who have been developed at Palmer Memorial Institute shall have taught their children such appreciation of these fine things in life that they will be able to go to these musicals and listen with appreciation."