School of Dentistry’s First African-American Graduate is Honored

School of Dentistry's First African-American Graduate is Honored
School of Dentistry Dean Marsha Pyle and Chancellor Leo Morton unveil a framed memorial to Dr. Donald Brown, the school's first African-American graduate.

Endowed Scholarship Created in Memory of Dr. Donald Brown

Dr. Donald Brown’s recognition was long overdue. When it came, his family accepted it graciously, with smiles and tears.

Brown was the first African-American graduate of the the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry. That was in 1965, when African-American names were often excluded from routine public announcements: Death notices. Wedding announcements. Graduation programs.

The man who didn’t even rate a mention in his own graduation program now has a permanent place of honor at the school. This week, UMKC officials unveiled a framed memorial to the late Dr. Brown, recognizing both his pioneering achievement and his family’s decision to endow a scholarship fund for diverse students at the School of Dentistry.

Brown passed away in July of 2009 in California, where he moved after graduation, built a practice and raised a family. Not long after, his adult children contacted Dean Marsha A. Pyle. Pyle met Brown’s daughter, Donna Brown-Hardnett, for lunch, where Pyle heard the story of Dr. Donald Brown for the first time.

“On his graduation day, his name was not published in the newspaper with the other graduates, and was not listed in the program. You can only imagine how this story shocked me and saddened me,” Pyle said at the unveiling. “I am very touched by the Brown children’s generosity and their willingness to make something positive out of this sadness.”

After Pyle and UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton unveiled the memorial, Brown-Hardnett stepped to the podium. She recalled the pride her father had in the professional degree he had earned.

“He always wanted us to introduce him as Doctor Donald Brown,” she said through tears, “because in 1965, there weren’t too many people who look like me who could say that.”

That pride carried through to the next generation, she said, as each of his three children also earned professional degrees. Brown-Hardnett and her brother, Donald Brown II, are both attorneys; and brother Jeffery Brown is a physician. All three, along with numerous friends and members of the extended Brown family, attended the reception.

“I want you to know you made a real difference in our lives, UMKC,” she said. “This recognition is immensely, immensely appreciated.”

As for Dr. Brown’s lack of recognition at graduation, Brown-Hardnett said simply, “We took it as a sign of the times, not as a sign of the school.”

Chancellor Morton told the family he recalled similar slights growing up in Birmingham, Ala. He congratulated the late Dr. Brown for overcoming prejudice to achieve and serve.

“His legacy is in the faces of his children. I can see what he left in you,” Morton said. “The challenge before us is to produce more Dr. Browns. The scholarship fund that the Browns have endowed will be very important to that process.”

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