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In March 1944, actor Paul Robeson spoke at the annual fellowship breakfast of a local professional women’s sorority in Jersey City, New Jersey. In his speech, Robeson “paid tribute to a Mrs. Ella Barksdale Brown, civic, social welfare, and interracial worker,” and acknowledged that as one of his teachers, Barksdale Brown “had played an important part in his education which enabled him to become a leader and spokesman for his people.” Though he might not have known it at the time, Robeson’s recognition of his former teacher would have filled her former teachers with the utmost pride; as a member of the first graduating class of Spelman Seminary, now Spelman College, Barksdale Brown was raised and educated to learn how to raise and educate the future leaders of the Black community, and in doing so, become one herself. At the very breakfast where Robeson spoke, Barksdale Brown received an award for her dedication to the Jersey City community. The occasion of Robeson’s speech, then, along with its content, underscore the ways in which Barksdale Brown’s life and work were products of the education and socialization she received at Spelman.

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