Babette Brown obituary

Babette Brown with one of her Persona Dolls, which she used to teach children about racism


We reprint an obituary for Babette Brown, a life-long anti-racist activist, first in South Africa and then in Britain.

We would add to her son David’s obituary that she was also a long-standing supporter of Jews for Justice for Palestinians and a loyal member of JVL.

Babette Brown obituary

David Max Brown, Guardian
6 Mar 2019

My mother, Babette Brown, who has died aged 87, was a teacher who pioneered the use of life-size dolls to help children learn about empathy. She was also a determined advocate for equality and justice in South Africa and in the UK.

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Babette was the daughter of Annie (nee Kotkin), who had arrived in Cape Town in 1903 on a “poor ship” from Lithuania, and her husband, Lipman Kotkin, who worked in the coal delivery business. Her parents were cousins. Babette attended Parktown high school for girls in Johannesburg and then in 1948 went to the University of Witwatersrand, where she completed a BA in education.

In 1953 she married Emanuel “Mannie” Brown, also a teacher. The couple were founding members of the Congress of Democrats, one of four component organisations of the African National Congress in the 1950s.

Mannie was involved in planning the successful escape from Marshall Square police station in 1963 of four ANC comrades – Moosa Moolla, Charlie Jassat, Harold Wolpe and Arthur Goldreich. As the net tightened in the search for those involved in the escape, Babette left for London with her four young children, settling in North Finchley. Mannie later joined the family in exile.

Babette soon realised that she needed to fight the racism and sexism that was deeply embedded in the British education system.

With four teenage children she completed a BA degree in education and sociology at Enfield Polytechnic (now Middlesex University), graduating in 1975, and taught nursery nursing at Barnet College of Further Education (now Barnet and Southgate College).

In 1985 she launched Early Years Trainers Anti Racist Network, an international organisation that aimed to counter racism in schools, colleges and universities. She was a recipient of the Guardian Jerwood award in 1997 in recognition of her charitable work.

In 2000, she started a charity, Persona Doll Training (PDT), to show early years teachers how to use PDT’s unique life-size dolls to help children challenge discrimination.

Babette wrote several books including Unlearning Discrimination in the Early Years (1998) and Combating Discrimination: Persona Dolls in Action (2001). With the producer Billy Ridgers she also created training videos for the Persona Dolls project. She often wrote articles for Nursery World magazine and in 2013 wrote and self-published Separation, a novel for teenage children, set in apartheid South Africa.

In the last few years Babette began handing over her responsibilities at PDT and spent more time in her small garden.

Mannie died in 2003. Babette is survived by her children, Jenny, Cathy and twins Peter and me, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.