Dr. Tommie Brown joined the UTC faculty in 1971. She became the head of the Social Work department in 1980, making her the first African American woman to lead an academic department at the University.
Dr. Tommie Brown, a professor of social work at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga from 1971-1998 and a Democratic legislator in the Tennessee House of Representatives from 1992-2012, has donated her personal papers to the UTC Library Special Collections.
Now 88 years old, Dr. Brown said the papers, which include letters, photographs, newspaper clippings and documents from her years in education and politics—even the original research for her Ph.D. in social work from Columbia University—have a specific message.
“I call it, ‘Yes, you can.’ That’s the idea I want them to have,” she said.
“I was just a little girl who grew up in North Highland Park, and I think this is just another one of thousands of those stories. If I had my way, I would crack open all those stories and let them be told because the more the young people can see and hear and understand ‘Yes, I can,’ then they will try, too.”
Dr. Brown created the social work program at UTC. In 1980, she became the first black woman to head an academic department at the University.
Carolyn Runyon, director of Special Collections, said Dr. Brown “changed things in Chattanooga tangibly.”
“For me, one of the things that’s unique about this is that we’re documenting something in the state of Tennessee that I’m not sure anybody else has,” Ms. Runyon said.
Officials said, "Of the 101 women elected to the state legislature in Tennessee, only 16 have been black, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University."