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Remembering Bethane Middleton-Brown: A Mother, Sister And Daughter From ‘The Family Love Built’

Bethane Middleton-Brown
Gwendolyn Glenn
Bethane Middleton-Brown is shown at her Charlotte home in 2017.

Bethane Middleton-Brown, a Charlotte resident known globally as the sister of one of the people killed in the Charleston church massacre, died on March 18. She is survived by her husband of 25 years, Antonio Brown, three children and the four nieces she has been raising since her sister’s death. She was 50.

Middleton-Brown’s sister the Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor was among the nine Black people killed at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on June 17, 2015.

Middleton-Brown’s words to her sister’s killer at a bond hearing two days after the massacre resonated with people around the world. "For I'm a work in progress, and I acknowledge that I am very angry,” she said before sharing a lesson that her sister taught her. “We are the family that love built! We have no room for hating."

In a statement shared with WFAE, Middleton-Brown’s family said:

memorial pin for Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor
Gwendolyn Glenn
Bethane Middleton-Brown and her family continued to fight against racial violence after her sister's death. (File photo)

“Our hearts are heavy, and we are saddened to share that on Thursday, March 18, our beloved Bethane L. Middleton-Brown made her transition. We grieve the loss of a beautiful human being who loved deeply and cared tremendously for everyone around her... Bethane was a fierce advocate for her sister, DePayne V. Middleton, who was stolen from us tragically in 2015. We will continue to honor them both.”

Middleton-Brown’s cousin Waltrina Middleton added that her cousin was not only a fierce advocate for her sister but also for justice, working to shed light on racialized violence in this country.

"I often think back to 2015. Everybody was rushing to create this narrative, like the families forgive, that they missed other power messages that were spoken," said Waltrina Middleton, who added that they were like sisters. "She was often profound when she spoke out, advocating for our sister (Depayne). But she knew, like Dr. King, the only thing that can stamp out such darkness, such evil, that we experienced, was love. The love that was instilled in us by our elders, our parents, our aunts and uncles -- love is the only solution."

Middleton-Brown, a psychotherapist, was the youngest of three daughters born to Leroy and Frances Middleton. Her father was an African Methodist Episcopal minister.

Waltrina Middleton described the bond that all the sisters had as inseparable, and it was evident in how they treated their nieces and nephews as their own children. In an interview with WFAE in 2016, Middleton-Brown explained that was the reason she fought so hard to get custody of her nieces and to continue to raise them together after her sister’s death.

In that interview, she pointed to her sister’s love for her as the model for the love she poured into her nieces: “She's the best big sister I could ever have. She never waited for me to ask for anything. I would get care packages, and my roommates would be jealous. That was her. She was just really very nurturing to me - very nurturing.”

Waltrina Middleton said that Middleton-Brown had a beautiful voice and enjoyed singing. She had been an artist with Red Rock Entertainment Group, in Harrisburg. Middleton also said her cousin was a proud Delta and collected elephant figurines with their trunks up to show her love for the sorority. Middleton added that of all the things Middleton-Brown loved, what brought her the most joy was being with her family.

Mark Rumsey - WFAE
Bethane Middleton-Brown sits with her family in this 2017 photo.

“When she talked about her children, you could see her heart because they were her everything, and so are her nieces because she loved her sister -- she loved her so profoundly."

Waltrina Middleton said that in honor of the sisters the family would continue to advocate for justice and continue to shed light on the racial acts of violence.

Gracyn Doctor, a niece of Bethane Middleton-Brown, is a reporter with WFAE.

Dante Miller is a community engagement producer for WFAE and a Report for America (RFA) Corps members. Dante first joined WFAE in 2020 through RFA to work as part of a unique partnership with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and Digital Public Library of America. Her work in that project allowed her to use radio, online stories, Wikipedia entries and events to meet the community's news and information needs.