Millicent Brown’s Historic Walk to Desegregate Rivers High School

In 1963, 15 year old Millicent Brown made history as she walked up the steps of Rivers High School, an all-white high school in Charleston. However, she would not have been the one to integrate Rivers High School, if it had not been for slow court litigation. Instead, it was supposed to be her sister, Minerva, who graduated high school before the completion of the lawsuit, but Millicent took her place as the lead plaintiff in the case “Millicent Brown, et al v. School District 20.” Brown recalled the day before the historic walk and how she was worried about how her hair would look since it would be seen by both blacks and whites at school. She wanted to represent the African American community well, and at the time, she felt that her hair was crucial to this.

Millicent Brown and Jacqueline Ford were the only two black students who attended River High School that year out of the 11 students that integrated schools that year. When they arrived, law enforcement was minimal but on standby. Brown and Ford were met by many reporters and flashing cameras when they arrived to school that day. They entered school and went to their separate homerooms, but later, the student body filed outside for a fire drill due to a bomb threat. While outside, Brown talked to her fellow classmate, a young white girl, and  a reporter snapped a photo that made its way onto national platforms like the New York Times and even onto the international news stage. However, Brown does not like the photo, saying that it told an untrue story by not showing the tension that was present that day at River. She ended up creating a lasting friendship with the other girl in the photo and was greeted kindly by some fellow students. Brown did not see her school as a place where she could join in and she said that school felt like a job, a battle that she had to fight day after day, but they had to do it.

Millicent Brown went on to excel in academics, receiving her Bachelor of Arts Degree in History from the College of Charleston, a Master’s of Education from The Citadel, and a Ph.D. in 20th Century U.S. History from Florida State University. She has held positions at North Carolina A&T State University, Guilford College, Bennett College, the College of Charleston’s Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, and, currently, Claflin University as an Associate Professor of History where she is continuing to make a difference and dedicating her life to issues of race, gender, and class struggles, including her project, “Somebody Had to Do It,” which captures the memories of the students who desegregated schools.