Hazel Browne Williams

A glimpse into the history of education in Kansas City would not be complete without a profile of Hazel Browne Williams, the first African American fulltime professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Hazel Browne, a native Kansas Citian, was born on February 9, 1907, the only child of John and Effie Moten Browne. She graduated from Lincoln High School in 1923, where she earned the honor of serving as the first woman sponsor major of the school's Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC). Her reputation for breaking barriers would continue throughout the rest of her life.

Williams chose to pursue a career in education because it was one of the few professions open to black women in the 1920s. Upon graduation from the University of Kansas in 1927, she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In spite of feeling ignored by the faculty and administration, Williams remained at the university and earned a master's degree in English in 1929.

She began her teaching career in 1932 at Louisville Municipal College, a black liberal arts school and branch of the University of Louisville. She initially served as an assistant professor of English, but later taught German and established a German Studies department at the school.

Early in her career, Hazel Browne married Claude Williams, a principal at Leeds Junior High School, who died in 1937. Williams received a master's degree in guidance and counseling from Columbia University and went on to earn a Ph.D. from New York University in 1953. She was also honored as a Fulbright exchange teacher in 1956 and taught English in Vienna, Austria.

Williams became an associate professor at the UMKC School of Education in 1958 and was a full professor in secondary education in 1960. In 1976, she retired after serving on the faculty for 18 years and was granted emeritus status, the first black person bestowed with this honor from the UMKC. Her community and professional affiliations included the National Council of Teachers of English, the Carver Neighborhood Center, the Mattie Rhodes Center, YWCA, and NAACP. She died July 7, 1986, and was buried in Forest Hill Cemetery.


A version of this article previously appeared at http://www.kchistory.org/content/biography-hazel-browne-williams-1907-19...