Gilder Lehrman Research Project

In an effort to broaden its outreach to American high schools, the Oxford African American Studies Center, in conjunction with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, initiated a research project competition exclusively for high school students in the Fall of 2010. Participating students researched and wrote biographies on prominent African Americans, with the top articles being selected for publication in the online African American National Biography. Working with their teachers, the students were expected to follow the same guidelines used by professional writers for the site, utilizing primary sources and scholarly publications to highlight the contributions of important African Americans in their respective communities. The winners and honorable mentions are listed below (those not selected for publication received feedback on their papers from our team of scholars). All five will be published on AASC in the coming year.

Special thanks to those schools that participated, and congratulations to the winners. It is our hope that more schools will initiate similar research projects. For more information, we invite you to write to the editors.


"Brown, Kate." By Brian Tong and Theodore Lin of McLean High School, McLean, VA.

Kate Brown (1840-1883), a retiring room attendant, became a victim of discrimination when she was forcibly removed from a whites-only train car. Later, with the support of sympathizers in the US Senate, Brown sued for damages, and won her claim before the Supreme Court in Railroad Company v. Brown (1873). See the full text here.

"Welch, Eileen Watts." By Alec Lowman of Jordan High School, Durham, NC.

The daughter of the first surgeon in the state of North Carolina, Eileen Watts Welch (b. 1946) has used her influence as a respected entrepreneur to raise funds in support of education for medical professionals in the region. See the full text here.

Honorable Mentions

"Glover, Nathaniel." By Kelsey Schurer and Marina Reasoner of Douglas Anderson High School, Jacksonville, FL.

Coming of age during the difficult days of the Civil Rights Era, Nathaniel Glover (b. 1943) of Jacksonville became the first elected black sheriff in the state of Florida since Reconstruction, and later became the President of Edward Waters College.

"Odrick, Alfred." Leandi Venter, Hannah Heile and Micaela Ginnerty.�McLean High School, McLean, VA.

Alfred Odrick (1812–1894), a former slave, helped establish the first African American school in Virginia, which allowed for the formation of a thriving African American community bearing his name.

"Pearson, William Gaston." By Connor Killian of Jordan High School, Durham, NC.

A former slave, William Gaston Pearson (1858–1947) helped to found the Royal Knights of King David, a progressive reform group that focused on helping southern African Americans advance socially and economically.


Brown, Kate

(1840 – Mar. 1883),

retiring room attendant, activist, most renowned for winning the 1873 Supreme Court Case Railroad Company v. Brown, was born Katherine Brown in Virginia. There are many variations of her name; in some documents, she is referred to as "Catherine Brown," "Katherine Brown," "Kate Brown," or "Kate Dodson." In the New York Times article "Washington, Affairs at the National Capital," her name appears as "Kate Dostie." Very few records of Brown's life survive today; as a result, much of her childhood and personal life remains unknown.

Kate Brown's recorded personal life begins with her marriage to Jacob Dodson. Jacob Dodson had colorful past. Born in 1825, Dodson was a freeman. He spent most of his early life as a servant for Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton, but in 1843, Dodson began to accompany John C. Fremont, son-in-law of Senator Benton and a military officer, on expeditions to the west. In the late 1850s, Dodson was given a job at the Senate and settled down in Washington D.C. Not long after, Dodson met Brown and the two were married. Jacob Dodson brought two children into the family from a previous marriage, but Kate Brown never had children. Although Jacob was quite responsible in the early years of the marriage, the relationship quickly deteriorated. By 1866, Jacob became an alcoholic, had frequent affairs with other women and even went as far as threatening to shoot Kate. In the summer of 1867, Kate filed for divorce and changed her name from Kate Brown Dodson to her maiden name, Kate Brown.

Brown was hired as a Senate laundress in 1861. In regard to her work, Kate Brown was extremely diligent. In Betty Koed's narrative on the Kate Brown incident, A Dastardly Outrage, several Senators were reported to have expressed their positive impressions of this "educated, intelligent, respectable, and to all appearance refined woman" (Koed, 2008). Perhaps due to such approving praise, the then 21-year-old Kate Brown was quickly promoted to supervise the ladies retiring room less than one year after her hiring. In this new position, Brown attended to white ladies as they took a break during their Senate visits. This contact with white women was especially unusual as most colored employees worked out of public view.

On Saturday, 8 February 1868, Kate Brown was waiting for the train from Alexandria, Virginia en route to Washington D.C. She had just visited a sick relative and was returning to her home for the evening. When the train pulled into the station, it was nearly 3:00 pm. About to step onto the train, Brown turned to see who was shouting at her and there, on the platform, stood a police officer. He motioned for her to step down and use the other car, but as Brown recalled during her testimony in a congressional Report of the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia, June 17, 1868 (p. 12) she replied "this car will do." The officer quickly approached her, explaining that this car was a ladies only car; moreover, it was a car reserved only for white women. Refusing to succumb to this blatant show of discrimination, Brown defied the order and boarded. Just as steadfastly as she stepped aboard, the officer attempted to physically force her off the car. The two continued their fracas which lasted nearly eleven minutes. Not until the intervention of B.H. Hinds, the secretary to Senator Morrill, did the scuffle end; but by then, Brown had already suffered severe injuries, including a bruised face and twisted limbs. Months later, Brown was still confined to the bed, suffering a lung hemorrhage and coughing up blood.

The weekend incident garnered much attention from the national media. The Hartford Daily Courant called it an "outrage," while many others expressed disbelief for such mistreatment. Alarmed by the offense towards a Senate colleague, Senators Charles Sumner and Justin Morrill called for an investigation into the event. Empowered by such support, Brown sued the railroad company for $20,000. The case was heard by a District of Columbia court which awarded Kate Brown $1,500 in compensation. The Washington, Georgetown, and Alexandria Railroad Company appealed. In 1873, the case was brought before the Supreme Court. In its defense, the company argued that it had provided separate but equal facilities; however, a close scrutiny of the company's charter revealed that segregation was expressly prohibited in any form on the train in question. In the Court Majority opinion, Justice Davis declared that the condition "no person shall be excluded from the cars on account of color" would be interpreted as all races must be able to use the same car at the same time. Ultimately, the Supreme Court upheld the previous court's ruling, closing the Railroad Company v. Brown case.

This case was among the first clashes on the segregation issue, an issue that would have a great impact in the coming century. Just 23 years after Railroad Company v. Brown, the landmark 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case officially instated the Supreme Court's support for segregation. However, the verdict did not pass without opposition. Justice John Harlan, later known as the "Great Dissenter," provided the single vote against the decision. In his Plessy v. Ferguson dissent he called arbitrary segregation a "badge of servitude" and warned that such state enactments supporting segregation would no doubt "arouse race hate...and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races." Harlan's prognosis proved correct; the deteriorating race relations inspired a call for reform, catalyzing the African American Civil Rights Movement of the mid-twentieth century. The institution of segregation, brought to the national scene by Kate Brown's Railroad Company v. Brown, would change with time and soon become the cynosure of domestic politics.

While the incident left Kate Brown permanently debilitated, she was able to develop a close relationship with Senators Sumner and Morrill. Throughout her recovery period, both Senators worked tirelessly to ensure she was properly compensated. Brown returned to her post just months later and continued to work in the Senate until 1881. Two years later, Brown passed away at age 43.

Further Reading

  • The Congressional Globe, Senate, 40th Congress, 2nd Session, (February 10, 1868). pp. 1071, 1121-1125
  • Hartford Daily Courant. "Washington Gossip." February 12, 1868.
  • Koed, Betty. "FW: FW: Clarification."" E-mail message to David Loiterstein, February 16, 2011.
  • Koed, Betty K. ""A Dastardly Outrage": Kate Brown and the Washington-Alexandria Railroad Case ." Readex. Accessed February 12, 2011. Last modified September 2008.
  • Masur, Kate. An Example for all the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle Over Equality in Washington D.C. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010.
  • Masur, Kate, Becky Gilmore, and Lauren Borchard. "Personal and Political in Kate Brown's Washington." Lecture, United States Capitol Historical Society, VFW Building, Washington DC, August 17, 2005. From C-SPAN Video Library, C-SPAN. Accessed March 2, 2011.
  • New York Times. "A Victim of Bourbon Rule." August 19, 1880. Accessed February 16, 2011. Bigchalk.
  • New York Times. "Washington, Affairs at the National Capital." February 13, 1868.
  • Nixon, R. B. R. B Nixon to T. F Bayard, October 11, 1881. United States Senate. Accessed February 16, 2011.
  • Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896 U.S. LEXIS 3390 (May 18, 1896).
  • Railroad Company v. Brown, 1873 U.S. LEXIS 1383 (November 17, 1873).
  • Report of the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia No. 131, 40th Congress, 2nd Session (1868).
  • Wright, John A. Discovering African American St. Louis. St. Louis: Missouri Historical Society Press, 2002.
  • Obituary: New York Globe. "Washington Letter." (March 17, 1883).


Brian Tong and Theodore Lin
McLean High School
McLean, Virginia



Welch, Eileen Watts

(March 28, 1946–),

activist, educator, and business and administrative leader, was born Constance Eileen Watts in Durham, North Carolina, to Constance Merrick and Dr. Charles DeWitt Watts. Dr. Watts was North Carolina's first black surgeon, and it was his outspoken advocacy that would serve as a catalyst for the merger in 1976 of the all-black Lincoln Hospital and the all-white Watts Hospital into a single, multiracial entity, the Durham Regional Hospital. In addition to being the granddaughter of Dr. Aaron M. Moore, one of the founders of Durham Mutual Insurance Company and Durham's first black doctor, and John Merrick, a prominent black entrepreneur, Constance Merrick Watts was a public force in her own right, lecturing, speaking, and serving a notable term as the head of Moore's popular Durham Colored Library. "As an adult," said Welch in a 2004 speech, "I am much better able to understand and appreciate the accomplishments of my ancestors, of which there are many" (Welch 7). These accomplishments in business, health care, and education, would ultimately be echoed by achievements in her own life in those fields.

In 1964, Eileen Watts graduated from Hillside High School, which was, at the time, still an all-black institution. Four years later, while her father was fighting to make integration and the promise of the 1964 Civil Rights Act a reality in health care, Watts graduated from the historically black Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. She left Spelman, however, with the intention of pursuing a career as an elementary school teacher, rather than choose a careeer in the medical professions like her father. Twenty-two years old, she returned to Durham briefly during the summer of 1968 to marry James "Jim" Welch; they were joined on July 13, 1968 at St. Joseph's African Methodist Episcopal Church in Durham (New York Times, 69). It was the beginning of a long, happy marriage; in later years, Mrs. Welch affectionately related how her family "adopted" Jim (Welch 1). Shortly after the wedding, the young couple returned to their new home in Atlanta, where Welch began work. Her stint teaching the third grade was cut short, however, by Jim getting drafted into the army to serve in the Vietnam War, which forced the pair to uproot and move to Arlington, Virginia. The couple had two sons, born in 1970 and 1972, and Eileen Welch put her career on hold for a time to raise them.

However, it wasn't long before Welch refocused on a professional career. A few years after her second son was born, she decided to start her own small business in Virginia's Fairfax County, a move that kept her schedule flexible and put her communication skills to work. Book Art, Ltd, a for-profit bookstore, quickly grew into a chain, and it was not long before Welch began to reap a tidy profit. From this point on, she permanently altered the trajectory of her work, now focusing on her entrepreneurial talents. She began a second venture a few years later known as Publishers Network, Ltd, which worked closely with individuals and government agencies in its sale of "special-order publications." Local officials and businessmen took note of her deft aptitude; in 1983, it was her turn to be drafted, in this case as the manager for the Reston (Virginia) Employment Service. She served seven years in this position before being recruited by the INOVA Health System, based in Falls Church. In nearly no time at all, Welch came from being a stranger in town to being a leading and popular administrator. Her employers at INOVA encouraged Welch to work on her M.B.A. in her spare time. In 1995, she received her degree from George Mason University.

Just as Welch's plans had changed over the course of nearly two decades, so had her hometown. In 1996, she came back with her husband when Duke University offered her a position as a Director of Development for its small, ambitious nursing program. Over the next several years, she flitted through a variety of positions, from Director of Development to Associate Dean for External Affairs to, finally, Assistant Dean for Development, remaining in the same role: fundraiser. Like her great-grandfather Aaron Moore, she was not at all shy about forging partnerships and making connections, growing to be a close friend of Mary T. Champagne, the dean who "resurrected the school of nursing." (Yee). Together, they worked tirelessly to raise funds for a new building to consolidate the nursing students and provide more training and communication with the nearby Duke University Medical Center. Proposed in 2002, the completion of the building seemed unlikely just over a year later, but like her father, Welch prevailed through iron-clad perseverance. Like her mother, Welch also cleverly utilized community connections, inheriting her mother's position as head of the Standford L. Warren Public Library (formerly the Durham Colored Library) and involving herself as a member of organizations like the Triangle Community Foundation and the Rotary Club. Mary Champagne retired in early 2004, and the building was dedicated in 2005.

Shortly before the building dedication, in the summer of 2004, Dr. Charles Watts, Welch's father, passed away. In the wake of his death, Welch increasingly drew inspiration from her memories of him, a fact that echoed in her speeches and activities; since her return to Durham eight years earlier, she had become closer than ever to the man she affectionately dubbed "an old-timey doc" (Cheng E12). In 2005, shortly after the dedication of the new nursing building, Watts joined the North Carolina chapter of the Center for Child and Family Health as an Executive Director of Advancement (NAAHHS). Using her connections at Duke, Welch helped to forge valuable partnerships between Duke, NCCU, and UNC, including the sharing of North Carolina Mutual company archives (Jackson). Increasingly, she turned to the press to advocate for awareness and funds for young victims of mental illness and trauma. She has also worked as an Officer in Duke's Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Welch's evolution from teacher to entrepreneur to administrator paralleled, in many ways, the strides and successes of more and more African American women at the turn of the 21st century. Her personal journey, like others, was inspired by the battles fought and won by her ancestors in the 19th and 20th centuries. Her achievements are significant on a national as well as a personal level. "We all have talents," mused Welch in a 2009 interview, "and we have to use them for the best" (The History Makers).

Further Reading

  • Anderson, Jean Bradley. Durham County: A History (1990)
  • "C. Eileen Watts Welch Biography." The The History Makers, 23 Jun 2009. Web. 23 Feb 2011.
  • "Eileen Watts." National Alumni Association of Hillside High School (NAAHHS) Network. NAAHHS. Web. 24 Feb 2011.
  • "Eileen Watts Wed to James A. Welch." New York Times, 14 July 1968, 63.
  • Garrett, Nathan. "Durham Colored Library." Palette, Not a Portrait: Stories from the Life of Nathan Garrett. 2010. 189-190.
  • Welch, C. Eileen Watts. "Introduction of family members and history of Aaron Moore." North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company Records. 11 May 2004. 1-8 Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.


Alec Lowman
Charles E. Jordan High School
Durham, North Carolina