Bulletin of Dental Education

University of Missouri - Kansas City School of Dentistry Honors First African-American Graduate

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Recognition of Donald Brown, D.D.S. was long overdue. When it came, his family accepted it graciously, with smiles and tears. 

Dr. Brown was the first African-American graduate of the University of Missouri - Kansas City School of Dentistry (UMKC). That was in 1965, when African-American names were often excluded from routine public announcements. 

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.

Dr. Brown passed away in July of 2009 in California. Not long after, his adult children contacted Dean Marsha A. Pyle, D.D.S., M.Ed. Dr. 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,” Dr. Pyle says 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 Dr. Pyle and UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton unveiled the memorial, Ms. 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. Ms. Brown-Hardnett and her brother, Mr. Donald Brown II, are both attorneys; and brother Dr. Jeffery Brown is a physician. 

“His legacy is in the faces of his children. I can see what he left in you,” Mr. 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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