north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

     Charlotte Hawkins Brown (1883-1961) brought to her native North Carolina New England ideals and money, creating in Palmer Memorial Institute one of the most respected and influential black preparatory schools in the nation. Born near Henderson in Vance County, Charlotte Hawkins as a small child moved with her family to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was educated there in the public schools. In 1901, at age eighteen, she was persuaded by the American Missionary Association to return to North Carolina to assist in their effort to educate southern blacks. She arrived in Sedalia in eastern Guilford County and commenced teaching at Bethany Institute. That school failed after only one year but Charlotte Hawkins soon fixed plans for a new school just across the road. It would be named for Alice Freeman Palmer, second president of Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, a friend and benefactor, who died in 1902. Young Miss Hawkins was quite successful at raising funds in New England for the project.

     Palmer Memorial Institute opened on October 10, 1902, and graduated its first students in 1905. The campus grew from a classroom in a blacksmith shop to fourteen buildings and 400 acres by the 1930s. The students were of both sexes, day students and boarders. The curriculum initially emphasized manual training and industrial education; in later years there was more attention given to the liberal arts and to etiquette. Dr. Brown, who had a short-lived marriage to Harvard alumnus Edward S. Brown in 1912, retired as school president in 1952. She continued to lecture, served on several race relation boards, and received six honorary degrees. Dr. Brown is said to have been a “woman of great dignity” and is especially revered by the school’s surviving alumni.

     The school closed in 1971 and the property was purchased by Bennett College of Greensboro. Plans in the late 1970s for Malcolm X University at the campus were stillborn and in 1986 the State of North Carolina acquired title from the Black Muslims. With the aid of a nonprofit foundation, the Division of Archives and History developed the campus as a state historic site. The aim of the site is to “link Dr. Brown and Palmer Memorial Institute to larger themes of black education and social history, emphasizing the contributions black citizens have made to North Carolina.”

Charles W. Wadelington and Richard F. Knapp, Charlotte Hawkins Brown: What One Young African American Woman Could Do (1999) Constance Hill Marteena, The Lengthening Shadow of a Woman: A Biography of Charlotte Hawkins Brown (1977)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 242-243—sketch by A. M. Burns III
Howard E. Covington Jr. and Marion A. Ellis, eds., The North Carolina Century: Tar Heels Who Made a Difference, 1900-2000 (2002)
Greensboro Daily News, May 11, 1975
Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum at Historic Palmer Memorial State Historic Site website:

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north carolina highway historical marker program

Charlotte Hawkins Brown

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources