Hallie Quinn Brown, an elocutionist, author and activist, was a revolutionary figure for her time.
The daughter of former slaves, Brown was born in Pittsburgh in 1845. She grew up in a home that was a station on the Underground Railroad and was raised by parents in pursuit of education and human rights for all.
Her family later moved to Ohio, and Brown graduated from Wilberforce College, which was the foundation for Central State University.
LaVerne Sci, a Paul Laurence Dunbar scholar, has interpreted Brown in front of community groups for over 20 years.
“I try to capture her dedication and her commitment to her purpose, as she said it, ‘to uplift the race,’” Sci said in 2017.
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Brown dedicated her early career to teaching those who had no opportunity for an education, many of them the children of freed slaves, said Sci.
“There was a whole generation of people who had not been allowed to read,” she said.
Brown returned to Wilberforce in 1893 as a professor of elocution, a public speaking art that emphasizes vocal projection, delivery and gestures. While traveling the country thrilling audiences at lectures and recitals, Brown was known to hold audience attention with her dramatic readings and to cause “wave after wave of laughter to roll over her audience,” according to early reports.
“Miss Brown possesses a voice of wonderful magnetism and great compass,” wrote a reviewer. “At times she thrills by its intensity; at times it is mellow and soothing. She seems to have perfect control of the muscles of her throat, and can vary her voice as successfully as a mocking-bird.”
Often she would interpret the poetry of Dayton’s Dunbar, the first nationally known African-American writer.
“After Dunbar’s death, she valued his contribution in the field of literature and she wanted to keep it alive,” Sci said. “She was afraid his legacy would be undervalued and forgotten, so she started including Dunbar’s works in her performances as she traveled across the United States. Being trained in elocution, she delivered Dunbar’s works with flair and drama.”
Her voice carried her overseas for lectures in Germany, Switzerland and France. In 1899, she appeared before Queen Victoria in Great Britain.
Brown’s oratory skills were not only entertaining, but a voice for social change. She lectured about temperance and advocated for African-American civil rights and women’s suffrage, incorporating equal access to education and political access for all in her oration.
She helped found the Colored Women’s League in Washington, D.C., which became the National Association of Colored Women and adopted the motto, “Lifting as We Climb.” The organization saw its women’s movement as an opportunity to make life better for women, children and men.
Brown wrote numerous books, including “Homespun Heroines and other Women of Distinction,” which chronicled the lives of 60 black women. In the introduction to the 1926 book, Brown wrote that it was published “as a token of regard to the history-making women of our race” and to secure their history for future generations.
Sci says carrying on that legacy is her motivation for portraying Brown.
“History, largely, has not remembered her,” Sci said. “So much African-American history has been omitted that I am afraid it will be forgotten. Ordinary people have done extraordinary things, and in particular Hallie Quinn Brown was one such person.”