Louise Tanner Brown (1883-1955)

Photograph featured in the Journal of Negro Life, 1930

Louise Tanner Brown was a born in Beaver, Pa in 1883. Grew up in Pittsburgh, and later moved to Scranton while her father Rev. Richard Tanner was a pastor at Bethel AME Church.

Mrs. Brown lived her life in Scranton as successful businesswoman, early activist in the 20th century civil rights movement, educator, orator, dramatist, and humanitarian. Ms. Louise was among the local elite. She was a sophisticated woman with a signature style and a voice so eloquent it was known to drop jaws. She used her social status to voice the concerns of her community that was being crippled by systematic racism Her perspectives on the topic of race were frequently published in local newspapers; “discrimination was practiced generally against her race.” She emphasized, however, “Colored people want only the rights to which they are entitled.” Even though segregation practices were illegal in Scranton, it was not an unusual occurrence. In the mid-1900s black residents were living in isolated neighborhoods primarily in the city’s downtown.  It was true that may African Americans preferred to live in prominently black communities, but they did not agree with restricting them staying in hotels and eat in public restaurants when they could not find accommodations with their own race. During the 1930s she was engaged public discussions about the destructive language used in newspapers to describe African Americans locally and nationwide. She often suggested that racial prejudice against black people could be diminished if newspapers would not stress the word “Negro” in crime stories that involve black people

“Colored Women Form Political League” The Scranton Republican (Scranton, Pennsylvania) 29 Sept 1920, Wed page 14.

By the end of the 1800s, Black women began to organize themselves in women’s clubs all over the country as a vehicle to establish their goals for change and reform. In 1920, Mrs. Louise was at the forefront of organizing a political league for Black Women in Scranton, acting as president of the newly developed organization. She was establishing her self as a leader of the Black Community’s social and civil life.

“I found so many people who were anxious to buy my business that I decided if it was of value to them it must certainly be of value to me, and so I decided to keep it.”

When her husband George W. Brown passed away in 1923, she had no choice but to take over his business. Ms. Louise not business savoy, but she was a brilliant woman. In the first year the business was in her hands, she sold the horses and replaced them with trucks that she financed. By 1936 she owned 14 trucks, all paid for. G W. Brown Co flourished under her ownership, she even had to hire more men to keep up with the work. She had a staff of 23 men who all called her ‘Ma Brown.’  Louise never had any children of her own or relatives in the city of Scranton, but her employees were like a family to her. ’Ma Brown’ listened their troubles, encouraged them in their work, and received in return wholehearted support and cooperation. The Scranton Times (1908) described Ms. Louise as “charitably-inclined lady.”

The Scranton Republican (Scranton, Pennsylvania) 12 May 1936, page 6

“For me, business has been a most pleasant experience,” she told the Scranton Republican, “and never once in all of the fourteen years have I encountered anything to make me change that idea.”

Aside from daily business operations, Ms. Louise still found time to stay active in community affairs.  She was secretary-treasurer of the board of trustees of Bethel A.M.E. Church and superintendent of the its Sunday School. She was a member of the Board of the Progressive Recreation and Social Center and was instrumental in the associations development (know today as the Progressive Center), president of the Fidelis Club of the  Y.W.C.A., on the Board of Directors of the Scranton Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Community welfare was her topmost avocation and did so with love, care, immense generosity, and forceful initiative. 

In 1930, her aptitude as a businesswoman was being recognized. She was nominated for the William E. Harmon Foundation Award for Distinguished Achievement Among Negroes.  She didn’t win, however she explained, “just being mentioned in such a category meant a great deal.”

In 1940 Louise was selected as one of the 10 outstanding women of Scranton. She was the director of the Progressive Association and the Scranton Red Cross and a former president of the Fidelis Club of the YWCA. 

She entered into her second marriage in 1946 to retired minster Rev. P. A. Scott. Almost a decade later, Louise moved to Ohio. She lived with her niece, Mabel Askew who at the time was Dean of Women at Wilberforce University.  Mrs. Louise Tanner Brown passed away on November 18 1955 at the age of 72, in Dayton Ohio. Her final resting place is here in Scranton, where she dedicated most of her years to serving her community. Whether she knew it or not, she built a legacy. Through her advocacy and activism she carved out space for the black community here in Scranton.

References:

The Journal of Negro Life, 1930

The Scranton Republican (Scranton, Pennsylvania) 29 Sept 1920, page 6

The Scranton Republican (Scranton, Pennsylvania) 12 May 1936, page 6

The Scranton Republican (Scranton, Pennsylvania) 11 Dec 1935, page 13

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