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Did You Know Educator, Harriet Elizabeth Brown, Helped to Establish Equal Salaries for Black Teachers in Maryland on This Day?

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This Day In History: December 27th

As a trailblazer in advocacy for equal pay, Harriet Elizabeth Brown helped to advance the wage gap for teachers of color with her historic lawsuit. On December 27, 1937, the Calvert County Board of Education in Maryland agreed to equalize salaries after Brown’s case highlighted the fact that the wage discrepancy violated the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

Prior to championing wage equity, Brown spent her early years being educated in Philadelphia and Baltimore. She relocated to the rural county of Calvert with her sister, who was also a teacher and was surprised by the conditions of the schools for children of color. Despite having limited resources, she continued her career in education and even became a school principal. 

While working as a teacher for the Calvert County school district during the 1930s, Brown became aware of the difference in pay between teachers of color and their white counterparts by the end of the decade. She observed that Black teachers who had the same qualifications and experience as white teachers were making nearly half of their salary. 

Harriet Elizabeth Brown (Courtesy of Calvert Beacon)

The inequities in pay were enough to make Brown take action so she set out to challenge the pay scale in Calvert County. To embark on her legal journey, Brown enlisted the help of Thurgood Marshall, who was the attorney for the NAACP. Together, the two sued the county for violating the Constitution’s 14th Amendment and were successful in their efforts. 

As a result of the lawsuit, the county’s board of education agreed to pay an equal salary to Black teachers and lessen the pay gap. This decision led to the establishment of the Maryland Teachers Pay Equalization Law in 1941, which was a first for the state of Maryland. 

The case also inspired other Black teachers in different states to push for an equal salary. Two years after the lawsuit was settled, Aline Elizabeth Black and Melvin O. Alston advocated for teachers in Virginia, ultimately leading to equalization laws in their state. Brown’s decision to challenge the county’s unconstitutional salary scale was a bold move that led to an increase in pay for teachers in Maryland and beyond. 

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