By Doris Pierce-Hardy, Associate Director of Development, School of Social Work

In the heart of Warrenton, Georgia, a beacon of resilience emerged from the shadows of adversity. Born the grandson of a former slave and son of an African-American father and Native-American mother, Dr. William Neal Brown was raised amidst the echoes of racial struggle. Little did he know, he would soon embark on a journey that would etch his name in the chronicles of Black history.

Hailing from a lineage scarred by the shackles of slavery, Dr. Brown's upbringing was steeped in poverty. Despite the oppressive clouds of discrimination, he soared academically, claiming the pinnacle of academic achievement in high school. Yet, the sting of prejudice denied him the rightful honor of valedictorian solely because of his race.

Undeterred, Dr. Brown pursued knowledge with unwavering determination. At the esteemed Hampton Institute, now known as Hampton University, he honed his oratory prowess, emerging as a formidable debater. His thirst for learning propelled him to Columbia University, where he earned his MSW, and later to the City University of New York, where he obtained his Ph.D. in Human Growth and Development.

Dr. Brown's legacy extends beyond the confines of academia. During World War II, he served valiantly as a Captain in the U.S. Army Air Force, standing tall amongst the storied ranks of the Tuskegee Airmen. His contributions as a special services officer exemplified his unwavering commitment to his country.

Breaking barriers became second nature to Dr. Brown. In 1956, he shattered the glass ceiling as the first Black professor at Rutgers University, marking a pivotal moment in the institution's 190-year history. During his tenure at Rutgers, Dr. Brown held one of his more memorable debates when he clashed with Malcolm X on the topic of "Integration or Separation." Sponsored by the NAACP and the Black Students Association, this riveting discourse now echoes through the hallowed halls of the Library of Congress.

Dr. Brown's accolades continued to cascade throughout his illustrious career. The National Association of Social Workers – New Jersey honored him as Social Worker of the Year in 1969, a testament to his tireless advocacy for equality and justice. His impact transcended generations, earning him the esteemed Tuskegee Airmen Congressional Gold Medal in 2007, recognizing his indomitable spirit in dismantling racial barriers.

As a pioneer in social work, Dr. Brown's influence knew no bounds. His seminal work on "the alienated youth" reverberated across the globe, translated into 39 languages and resonating with relevance to this day. His legacy continues to serve as a beacon of hope and inspiration for generations to come.

In April 2009, Dr. William Neal Brown departed this world, leaving behind a tapestry of triumph and perseverance. His journey, marked by resilience and fortitude, stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of Black excellence and the power of perseverance in the face of adversity.

Listen to an interview with Dr. Brown, courtesy of the Rutgers Oral History Archives.