WEST ORANGE, NJ - The first of a planned series of historic markers highlighting West Orange history was unveiled Feb. 5 at the West Orange Public Library. The marker highlights the accomplishments of Anna Easter Brown, an African-American woman born and raised in West Orange, who graduated from West Orange High School in 1897.
Brown went on to attend Howard University, a traditionally all black college, and in 1908, she and eight other women formed the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority (AKA). Brown served as the first treasurer of the sorority, and was internationally recognized for her efforts in promoting education.
At the ceremony, on Friday, West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi noted that Brown attained these accomplishments when, “few women, and even fewer African-American women, went to college.”
Statistics show only one-third of one percent of African Americans and five percent of whites of eligible age during Brown’s era attended any college, according to “Education of Blacks in the South, 1860-1935,” by James D. Anderson.
Parisi said he was especially glad to have Alpha Kappa Alpha and the town erect this marker, as he personally did not know her story until this initiative was launched and he became aware of her accomplishments. He later read from a town proclamation that declared, “from this day and ever more, February 5th will be known as Anna Easter Brown Day.” In addition, both houses of the New Jersey Legislature also passed a resolution honoring Brown.
With Parisi, members of the town government, a large contingent of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and members of Brown’s family looking on, speakers included the Anna Easter Brown Marker Initiative Chairman Tammy Williams, who welcomed the over 200 people that filled the library for the ceremony.
Several town officials joined her with remarks including West Orange Library Director Dave Cubie, who joked it was “so wonderful to find out she (Brown) was a librarian.” Brown was the chief evening librarian at Howard University while she studied.
Downtown West Orange Alliance Executive Director Megan Brill said the marker initiative introduced her and the Alliance to many new people and groups, and that she was grateful to the AKA for bringing this partnership to her.
She said, “The design of the marker has a QR code, which will lead people to a lot more information than is on the marker itself, so pictures, background and other information is available to everyone.”
Markers proposed by Town Historian Joe Fagan will follow the same layout as Brown’s. The goal for the project is to have a total of 10 markers erected this year.
Fagan also had a surprise for the leadership of Alpha Kappa Alpha—he brought along a register from 1879, the year Brown was born. Although he said the document had no direct connection to Brown, he invited the leadership of the regional and international chapters of AKA to touch it and “put your fingerprints on it” to connect the day’s event to something from the year of Brown's birth.
Members of the AKA sorority traveled from all over the United States for this marker unveiling in Brown’s hometown. Among them were International President of the AKA Dorothy Buckhanan Wilson, and the North Atlantic Regional Director Meredith Henderson, along with sorority members who have been with the group for more than 50 years.
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority has 283,000 members and 993 chapters. Its stated goals are to address community needs with programs in five target areas: educational enrichment, health promotion, family strengthening, environmental ownership and global impact, according to the sorority site.