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Smithsonian Pioneer: Solomon G. Brown

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US History Age Level High School (16 to 18 years old)

In 1852, Solomon G. Brown of Washington D.C. became the first African American employed by the Smithsonian Institution. He was an unusual man of his time, as he was a literate free person of color in Washington D.C., where slavery was legal until 1862. Additionally, Mr. Brown was an influential member of the African American community in Washington D.C, before and after the Civil War. For 54 years, Mr. Brown worked at the Smithsonian Institution in a variety of positions. He saw the institution change and grow. In 1902, the Smithsonian honored Mr. Brown for his time and service.

 This Learning Lab explores the experience of Solomon G. Brown and his work at the Smithsonian Institution. Exploring his career can highlight the complexities of slavery, freedom, race, and citizenship that African Americans experienced in Washington D.C. through the latter half of the nineteenth century, which included the late Antebellum Period, the Civil War, the Gilded Age and the beginnings of the Jim Crow Era. His life poses an interesting contrast to the more normative narratives of African Americans during the mid to late nineteenth century.

Discussion questions are included at the beginning of the Learning Lab.

 

Keywords: nmaahc, African American, Smithsonian, Institution, museum, castle, secretary, freedom, slavery, Washington D.C. DC, district, Columbia, research, pioneer, Solomon, Brown, first, civil war, antebellum, reconstruction, Jim Crow, 19th century, 20th century

Discussion Questions

NMAAHC Education

African Americans in D.C.

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Mr. Brown at Work

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Portrait of Solomon G. Brown

Smithsonian Archives - History Div

Smithsonian Institution Building, or "Castle"

Smithsonian Archives - History Div

Carte-de-visite of the Smithsonian Castle

National Museum of African American History and Culture

Petition to Board of Regents, 11/13/1869

Smithsonian Archives - History Div

International Exchange Service Staff

Smithsonian Archives - History Div

Staff, International Exchange Service, 1891

Smithsonian Archives - History Div

Solomon G. Brown, 1891

Smithsonian Archives - History Div

International Exchange Service, c. 1905

Smithsonian Archives - History Div

"Fifty Years To-day" Poem, 4 pages

Smithsonian Archives - History Div

Mr. Brown Remembered

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"Smithsonian Honors a Black Pioneer" News Clipping

Smithsonian Archives - History Div