Donella Brown Wilson

1909–2017

In Columbia, she attended Booker T. Washington in grade school and in 1933, she earned her teaching credentials from Allen University. After graduation, she taught mostly in rural South Carolina schools until 1971

Educator, Civil Rights activist, community leader. Wilson was born on May 24, 1909, on the Peterkin Plantation in Fort Motte, Calhoun County to Henry and Minnie Bryant Brown. Her grandparents had been enslaved on the plantation and her parents continued to work as sharecroppers. When her father died in the 1910s, mother and daughter moved to Charleston and then to Columbia. Minnie Brown married John Logan and had another child, Mary.

Wilson learned to read during her early years by using a Sears catalog. In Columbia, she attended Booker T. Washington in grade school and in 1933, she earned her teaching credentials from Allen University. After graduation, she taught mostly in rural South Carolina schools until 1971. Wilson married her high school sweetheart, John R. Wilson in 1931. They raised four children, Shirley, Patricia, Minnie, and John Jr. Reverend John Wilson died in 1998.

She joined the NAACP in the 8th grade and was active in promoting rights of African Americans. When the NAACP won several suits for equal pay for African American teachers during the 1940s, the Wilsons and others at the high school in Lexington requested the same rights as White teachers such as supplemental pay and sick leave. John Willison was the only one to admit to the superintendent that he had made the request and the teaching contracts of both John and Donella were not renewed. Donella Wilson then worked at Roberts High school in Holly Hill, Orangeburg County and stayed in a boarding house during the week for almost 20 years before retirement. After the court rulings for Elmore v. Rice and Brown v. Baskin, Wilson on August 10, 1948 stood in line with hundreds of African American citizens in the Ward 9 precinct to vote.

The recipient of many honors, awards, and citations, Wilson was a life- time-member of the NAACP and Union Baptist Church, Household of Ruth, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., and the South Carolina and Richland County Retired Teachers Associations. In 2011, AT&T African American History Calendar honored Wilson. In 2017 Wilson was awarded South Carolina’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the Palmetto, by Governor Henry McMaster. Her experiences provide a window to examine activism for equal rights over the span of almost 100 years. She died in Columbia in 2017 at the age of 108 and had voted in every state, local, and national election since 1948.

Donella Brown Wilson, interview by author, June 8, 2009.
“Donella Brown Wilson,” Columbia City of Women Honoree, https://www.columbiacity

ofwomen.com/honorees/donella-brown-wilson
“Donella Brown Wilson,” AT&T African American History Calendar 2011, https://sc

africanamerican.com/honorees/donella-brown-wilson/
“Columbia SC 63: Our Story Matters,” February 10, 2017, https://columbiasc63.com/

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Donella Brown Wilson
  • Coverage 1909–2017
  • Author
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date October 7, 2022
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update July 14, 2022
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