Lead by Subtlety: Viola Davis Brown

February 24, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Intellectual history, Social history

By researching Viola Davis Brown and her accomplishments to publish a Wikipedia page about her life, I have discovered one of the subtle leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Viola Davis Brown, born in 1936, was certainly a pioneer of the movement in Kentucky, although not in the traditional context. The contrast in Brown’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement does not exist in her outward protest and open discrediting of segregation, but rather in her career and her personal accomplishments.

Photo of Viola Davis Brown

Viola Davis Brown

My research, though not complete, has not yielded any indication that Viola Davis Brown was involved with any organization such as NAACP or other traditional movements promoting integration during her lifetime. I found no record of Mrs. Brown openly addressing her race as a limiting factor or protesting for equality. Rather, her achievements and perpetual promotion in the work place has led her to be an extremely prominent figure of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.Viola Davis Brown became the first African American student in Lexington to attend and graduate with a nursing degree. She continued her education at the University of Kentucky, where she became a certified Primary Care Nurse Practitioner.  Mrs. Brown’s career was merely beginning when she was appointed Executive Director of the Office of Public Health Nursing for the Kentucky Department of Health Services in Frankfort, Kentucky. The accolades have not since halted.

Book cover, The Maid Narratives

The Maid Narratives

The most appropriate connection I was able to draw between the life of Viola Davis Brown and the ideas regarding the themes of The Maid Narratives fell among the ideas of Cognitive Dissonance and the Defiance of the Norms to Stand Up against Injustice. Viola Brown did not have to join strident organizations that proudly announced their cause within the movement. Brown’s actions, including the pursuance of higher education and career promotion at her own discretion, represent the subtle ability of an individual to overcome substantial barriers such as those dividing race in Lexington, Kentucky during her lifetime.

The descriptions in the text of The Maid Narratives carefully describes the acknowledgement of racial difference and the societal belief that two races, namely Black and White, are psychologically inconsistent. Viola Brown did not have to address this societal injustice head on. Rather, she committed herself to education and advancement within the sector of public health. Not only did she overcome the customs of her society and traditional role of the Whites to assume positions of medical care, she did so without personally addressing her race as a reason to see justice through. The textual example of the maid employer, Elise Talmage, would directly parallel, I can only imagine, the description of a white observer commenting on Brown’s progress in the field of health management. While it was entirely unheard of for a Black woman to hold such a position of prestige, Mrs. Brown continued to secure these positions and became a representation of triumph over segregation for the community and state, at large.

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Sources:

Van, Wormer Katherine S., David W. Jackson, and Charletta Sudduth. The Maid Narratives: Black Domestics and White Families in the Jim Crow South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2012. Print.

College of Public Health. “Hall of Fame Past Inductees: Viola Brown” University of Kentucky College of Public Health (2011): n. pag. Web. 11 February 2013.

 

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