WKCTC Honors Father and Son for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Efforts
Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Named in Honor of Curlee Brown Jr.
Paducah, KY (02/09/2023) — Nearly 70 years after he became the first African American student to graduate from Paducah Junior College (PJC) - today's West Kentucky Community and Technical College (WKCTC) - Curlee Brown Jr. was recognized in an office renaming ceremony at the college.
WKCTC's Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in the Anderson Technical Building was named in honor of the quiet and intelligent Brown Jr. More than 150 people filled the College Bistro on February 8, 2023, to listen to speakers talk about Brown Jr.
WKCTC President Anton Reece said it's important to honor the legacy of individuals like Brown Jr. "and not forget the struggle others endured so that future generations would have the privileges we have today," he said.
J.W. Cleary, president of the Paducah chapter of the NAACP, agreed, saying, "God knows I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for people like Curlee Brown."
The ceremony also spotlighted another person in the Brown family who fought for progress and equality in western Kentucky. Curlee Brown Sr. served as the Paducah-McCracken County NAACP chapter president for more than 30 years.
In the 1950s, PJC was an all-white institution, denying admission to anyone who was not white. On September 13, 1949, with the assistance of Attorney Joseph Freeland and Brown Sr., Fred A. Wilson, Jr. sought admission to PJC. When Wilson was refused admission because of his race, Freeland filed suit on his behalf in U.S. District Court at Paducah. Freeland argued, with guidance from Thurgood Marshall, the first African American justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, that African Americans in Paducah did not have access to "separate but equal" education because the nearest public African American college was in Frankfort.
PJC officials claimed that since West Kentucky Industrial College existed in the city limits of Paducah, there did exist educational facilities for African Americans. However, Freeland argued that West Kentucky Industrial College had been abolished in 1938, and the remaining vocational school did not have collegiate offerings.
Freeland won in U.S. District Court in Paducah, but PJC appealed the decision and continued to refuse admission to African American students. On January 22, 1952, the federal court in Paducah issued a mandatory injunction restricting the College from excluding qualified African Americans from enrolling in the College. On June 9, 1953, Brown, Jr., was one of four African American students who enrolled at PJC without incident. He graduated from PJC in 1955. Brown Jr.'s sister, Dora Lee, was the second African American to graduate from PJC, finishing her studies in 1957.
Jan Brown-Thompson, Brown Jr.'s youngest sister, said the tribute to her brother and father was a special memory that her family will cherish. She said her parents instilled in their children that education was the key to success and prosperity.
In a 1955 letter to Brown Jr., E.W. Whiteside, then principal of the former Lincoln High School in Paducah, congratulated him "on having kept the faith, for having worked diligently, on having the determination to live up to your rights and opportunities."
After graduating from PJC, Brown Jr. served in the armed forces in Utah as a microbiologist assistant and received bachelor's and master's degrees from Southern Illinois University. In 1963, the 27-year-old Brown was an SIU doctoral degree candidate when he was fatally injured in an automobile wreck near Carbondale, Ill. In addition to his parents, Curlee and Alberta Brown, and seven siblings, Brown Jr. was survived by his wife, Norma Jean (Ewing) and two daughters.
For more information on Black History Month events sponsored by WKCTC, go to: https://westkentucky.kctcs.edu/about/blackhistorymonth.aspx .
Registration for summer and fall classes at WKCTC begins on March 1. For more information, call 270.534.3435.