An American Daughter of Brown is an historical novel set in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education in the year 1955, in the geographic center of the United States. It is a coming-of-age story of Lauren Sullivan, an eight year-old lower middle class African-American girl who learns that she is no longer able to attend the elementary school that she loves and in which she thrived academically due to a new law that requires the integration of the public schools. When the story begins, her mother, an elementary school teacher, her grandmother, a piano teacher, and her grandfather, a railway mail clerk, all with whom she and her little brother Danny live, are attempting to hide their anxiety regarding the newly integrated experience Lauren and her little brother are about to begin. The reader learns about the misgivings of her enlightened Black family related not only to possible violence, but also the level of teaching the children will receive. The children walk to school with their aunt, one of the two Black teachers chosen to integrate Lauren's new school. Lauren and her family find that the danger they were anxious about did not come in the form of violence, but the benign neglect of Lauren's teacher, who allowed Lauren to absent herself from class two or three times per week to play jacks in the restroom. On one of those occasions Lauren is discovered by her aunt, who relates the incident to Lauren's mother. This sets in motion a series of events that provide the first lesson Lauren receives in how to navigate racism.
When Lauren's mother re-marries a couple of years later, Lauren finds herself in an abusive home with her mother and new stepfather, along with two new siblings. It is there that she gains additional survival skills. As she matures into puberty, Lauren narrowly avoids an attempted gang rape while on her first date, involving members of her high school football team. After trying to survive the emotional and social aftermath of that experience alone, Lauren, with her mother's guidance and intervention in the situation, learns her first lesson in confronting a male-dominated environment to retain her self-respect.
The story takes the reader through Lauren's maturation process, which always includes the struggle for civil rights in America as a backdrop. It culminates after Lauren matriculates into college and spends her junior year abroad as a student at the Sorbonne in Paris. There, Lauren falls in love with a handsome French student from Brittany. When he takes Lauren home to see some of provincial France and his home town of St. Malo, he introduces her to his parents, both former members of the French Resistance during the Second World War. Lauren's experience with racism and sexism come full circle when she learns that a subtle racism is alive and well, even in very liberal, genteel post-war France. As a result, she is ready to return to the United States and take her place as an adult African-American woman, prepared to take on the racism and sexism of her own country and in her own life.
Readers of An American Daughter of Brown will experience the nuances of overt and subtle racism as experienced through the eyes of a child who becomes a young woman in the 1950's and 1960's. Instead of witnessing violent racism as seen in news reports of the period, or the stark contrast between very poor, illiterate Blacks and affluent whites, the reader will undertake a journey with a young girl from an educated, enlightened family who must navigate the effects of a slightly more subtle racism just as debilitating. The reader will also learn that Black women, no matter how educated or intelligent, must also navigate sexism successfully in order to succeed. Through all of this, the modern reader has an opportunity to analyze whether and how far the U.S. has actually progressed in its quest for civil rights.