Magazine Highlights Pioneering Alumna
Beatrice Coleman, Brown University class of 1925, at the piano in her nursing home, Providence Rhode Island.
This current issue of the Brown Alumni Magazine (BAM) includes a tribute to its roughly 10 living alumni over the age of 100. Among that very select cadre of graduates is one African American. Her name is Beatrice Coleman, class of 1925, and she is 104 years old. A member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Ms. Coleman remembers several other Black students from her years at Brown, including: Joseph Carter ’23, Thelma Garland ’24, Marguerite Lingham ’25, Charlotte West ’24, and Francis Waring, who died as an undergraduate. Coleman spent her career as a teacher, first in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and later in Rhode Island.
BAM writer Lawrence Goodman describes one of his meetings with Ms. Coleman, who lives in a Providence nursing home:
In her voice, you can still hear the grit that must have gotten her, all those years ago, through Brown.
“I didn’t want to cook, wash, iron, and wait on white folks,” Beatrice Coleman ’25 says. Her voice rises to an angry pitch as she says this. With each word, she forcefully ticks off a finger—cook, wash, and wait. Why did her parents, the poor, uneducated children of slaves, want her to go to Brown? “They didn’t want me to cook, wash, iron, and wait on white folks,” she says again. She is a very frail woman, hunched over in the wheelchair someone else must push. But when she says this, her voice rises, and for a moment she sounds like someone much younger.
Testament to her pride in her Brown degree are the two photos above her bed in the room she shares with another elderly woman. One of these is of the insignia of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the African American sorority to which she belonged at Brown, and the other shows her at a Brown function in the 1950s. There are no other pictures, friends, or family. Coleman never married. “I didn’t want no man telling me what to do,” she explains. “It’s bad enough having a governor or president.”
Ms. Coleman enjoys card games and playing the piano. The year 2010 will mark her 85th college reunion. I hope she’s around to enjoy it. I know the graduating seniors and the other classes of alumni would give her a very warm welcome home.
Posted by Ajuan Mance