The Passing of Professor Leslie Brown


Leslie Brown died of leukemia in Boston on August 5 surrounded by loving friends and her long term partner Annie Valk.

Brown was a professor of History at Williams College. She was born in New York City and raised in Albany, New York. She was 61 years old.

She was a 1977 graduate of Tufts University, and received her Ph.D. from Duke University in 1997. In the interim she worked in retail, as a bartender, as a manager at McDonalds, and as an administrator at Skidmore College, where she first decided to become a teacher. After graduate school she taught at Duke, at The University of Missouri-St. Louis, and at Washington University in St. Louis before coming to Williams in 2008. There she taught a range of history courses on race, gender, and documentary studies. Her book, Upbuilding Black Durham: Gender, Class and Black Community Development in the Jim Crow South, won the Frederick Jackson Turner prize issued by the Organization of American Historians for the best book in American History by a first time author. She and Anne Valk, her life partner, co-authored Living with Jim Crow: African American Women and Memories of the Jim Crow South in 2010 which won the Oral History Association’s Biennial Book Award. In 2014, she published African American Voices from Emancipation to the Present. At the time of her death she was completing a forthcoming edited volume, U.S. Women’s History: Untangling the Threads of Sisterhood, with Anne Valk and Jacqueline Castledine, and working on a project on gender and migration.

Born in 1954, the year of the Supreme Court’s landmark school desegregation decision, Brown v. the Board of Education, Leslie’s teaching, scholarship and activism were attuned to the lives of ordinary African Americans and women.   She was committed to showing her students from all backgrounds the significance of gender and race in American History. Leslie was a wonderful hostess, opening her home, her office, and her heart to students and friends during good times and bad.  But as much as she loved good food, conversation, basketball, and debate, her true passion was in more solitary pursuits, her gardening, and her time in archives, where she found and collected the stories of people long forgotten.

Her passion for inclusion, fairness, and intellectual rigor changed the way Williams College looks at everything from student life to its role in the wider world. Although she worked there for less than a decade, she made the College a better place. Her friends, students and colleagues are heartbroken. Leslie is survived by Annie Valk and her family.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Pauli Murray Project in Leslie Brown’s name via this link: or by Mail to Pauli Murray Project, Box 90403, Durham, NC  27708.

In an earlier post, President Adam Falk had these kind words to say:

Leslie also gave us some insight on her life in her autobiography, “How a Hundred Years of History Tracked Me Down,” published in the book Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower.

Another heartfelt article written in The Labor and Working-Class History Association website can be found here:  Why Historians Should Remember Leslie Brown.

CDS Porch – News from the Center of Documentary Studies at Duke University has also posted the following:  Remembering Leslie Brown.

The African American Intellectual History Society featured several tributes to Leslie Brown.  They are listed below:

Rhon S. Manigault-Bryant, Associate Dean of the Faculty, Associate Professor of Africana Studies and Faculty Affiliate in Religion at Williams College – “Womanish is the Perfect Description for Me”: Remembering Leslie Brown

Don S. Polite, Jr. ’13, PhD Candidate in History at the University of South Carolina – “Stalwart Presence for a Generation at Williams College”: Remembering Leslie Brown

Ahmad Greene-Hayes ’16, Writer, Scholar, Minister and former student of Leslie Brown – “Griot of Times Past, Documenter of Stories”: Remembering Leslie Brown.

Keisha N. Blain, Visiting Research Scholar of Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and Assistant Professor of History at the University of Iowa – “A Soothing Balm to My Soul”: Remembering Leslie Brown.

Brandon K. Winford, Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee – “To Be Proud of Who We Are:” Remembering Leslie Brown.

Addendum: Williams College will hold a memorial service for Leslie Brown on Saturday, September 17 at 4 p.m. More details to follow.

*This post originally appeared on the website of Williams College*

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Keisha N. Blain

Keisha N. Blain

Keisha N. Blain, a Guggenheim and Carnegie Fellow, is Professor of Africana Studies and History at Brown University. She is the author of several books—most recently of the National Book Critics Circle Award finalist Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America (Beacon Press, 2021) and Wake Up America: Black Women on the Future of Democracy (W.W. Norton, 2024). Follow her on Twitter @KeishaBlain.