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William Neal Brown Memorial Fellowship

Portrait of Dr. William Neal Brown

Dr. William Neal Brown, the grandson of a former slave and son of an African American father and Native American mother, grew up in poverty. He graduated first in his high school class, but was denied the usual honor of being valedictorian because of his race. Despite hardship and prejudice, he went on to earn his BA at the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in Virginia, where he excelled as a debater, and In 1950 he earned his MSW from Columbia University and then his Ph.D. in Human Growth and Development from City University of New York. 

Dr. Brown died in April 2009 at the age of 90. His accomplishments were unique and varied – he served with the Tuskegee Airmen as a Captain in the U.S. Army Air Force during WWII as a special services officer; he was hired as the first Black professor at Rutgers; he debated Malcolm X on the topic of “Integration or Separation” in 1961 at Rutgers School of Pharmacy in Newark, the debate sponsored by the NAACP and the Black Students Association. A recording of the debate is now part of the permanent collection of the Library of Congress.

Group picture from WWII era Tuskegee Airfield: 2nd Row, Extreme Left: Lt. George Lima, Fall River, MA, 2nd Row, Extreme Right: Hurbert "Hooks" Jones, Denver, CO, Center (Floor): William Neal Brown, Montclair, NJIn 1969 he was selected by NASW-NJ as recipient of the Social Worker of the Year award; he retired from the School of Social Work in 1989 as a Professor Emeritus; in 2007 he was cited as “a courageous pioneer in breaking down racial barriers and promoting equality” and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor; he attended President Obama’s Inauguration as an honored guest in January 2009 with the Tuskegee Airmen. Dr. Brown was a leader in the field of social work and authored many papers and articles. His paper on alienated youth was translated into 39 languages throughout the world and remains as relevant today as it was decades ago.

This endowed fund was established by Suzanne Zimmer, Dr. Brown’s loving partner, to honor his work as an educator and scholar. The funds will provide the necessary resources for an annual lecture on relevant and current topics about the human experience.  Ms. Zimmer feels that her life was enriched by a long and loving relationship with Dr. Brown. Symbolically, this lecture will always remind us of his beliefs, values and teachings, and his blending of intellect and love into one. Dr. Brown actualized his potential as a dynamic, inspiring, and outstanding debater, scholar and educator.

Since 2017 the William Neal Brown Memorial Lecture series has been hosted as part of the School of Social Work's Challenging Racial Disparities Conference. Held annually, the conference is attended by hundreds of guests from the Rutgers and social work professional communities, and has hosted keynote speakers, including:

Learn more about our most recent lecture.

Dr. Brown’s journey through a life of giving, loving and serving despite racism and bigotry should provide inspiration to all who have feelings that inhibit them from a positive, loving and fulfilling life. His students found him an inspiring influence on their education and their lives, and his legacy lives on in the education he imparted to his students during his 33 years at Rutgers.

To celebrate the impressive life and achievements of Dr. William Neal Brown and to help support lectures that honor the blending of intellect and the human spirit follow this link, select "other", and enter the William Neal Brown Memorial Fellowship fund. 

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