When Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. spoke at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, he honored his mother-in-law, Gertrude Brown, who just months earlier had earned her bachelor’s degree in social work at age 61.
He urged those listeners to follow that example and “never surrender.”
Mrs. Brown died July 13 at age 90 in Washington, D.C.
Brown graduated from Hampton University, a historically black university in Virginia, after years of night classes and 4 a.m. hospital shifts. A teenage mother, she sent four children to college before pursuing her own degree.
Her daughter Jacqueline attended North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, where she met the young Jackson. The couple married in 1962 and have five children.
The reverend shared his mother-in-law’s story throughout his campaign for the Democratic nomination, which he eventually lost to Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.
“Gertie was an advocate of self-improvement,” the family said in a statement. “She was born in the pits of poverty with low expectations.”
Gertrude Davis gave birth to Jacqueline at 16; the young mother was unmarried and earning 15 cents an hour picking beans in South Florida. She married retired naval employee Julius Brown five years later and moved to Newport News, Virginia.
She worked full-time at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Hampton while raising her children and earning her high school diploma at age 51. The family said Brown encouraged “whomever she encountered to never stop learning.”
When she graduated from Hampton 10 years later, Rev. Jackson delivered the commencement address. According to the Hampton Daily Press, the Jacksons were inspired to establish a scholarship fund at Brown’s alma mater. She later earned her Master’s degree from Norfolk State University.
At Rainbow/PUSH Coalition’s annual convention this weekend, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., spoke at a luncheon honoring female leaders. Organizers held a moment of silence for another accomplished woman: “Gertie.”
Brown was preceded in death by her husband and two children, Cynthia Violet Dancy and Julius Francis Brown, Jr. She is survived by her two daughters, Jacqueline Lavinia Jackson and Constance Delores Ward; 10 grandchildren; and 22 great-grandchildren.
Services will be held Monday at Andrew Rakin Memorial Chapel at Howard University.