Vivien Rowan with husband Carl Rowan, a prominent State Department...

Vivien Rowan with husband Carl Rowan, a prominent State Department official, and sons Carl Jr. and Jeffrey. Credit: Handout

WASHINGTON -- At a Silver Spring, Md., Peoples drugstore in the early 1960s, Vivien Rowan finished shopping with her two young sons and approached the register.

After taking her money, the cashier slammed the change on the counter, stepped back and crossed his arms.

Vivien Rowan, an Arkansas native who had grown up with racial discrimination, found the store manager and demanded a formal apology. She insisted that the cashier place her change in her palm. "She taught us never to accept unequal treatment," her son said.

Vivien Rowan, 89, who died March 26 at Georgetown University Hospital of complications from a stroke, endured many episodes of racial disparity in the Washington area.

She was the wife of Carl T. Rowan, a prominent State Department official and among the first nationally syndicated black columnists in the country.

Carl Rowan's thoughtfully constructed opinions earned him prestige in the journalism world. Still, many newspapers in the South refused to carry his column, and his family received hate mail laced with racial epithets and death threats.

The Rowans moved to Washington from Minneapolis in 1961, when President John F. Kennedy appointed Carl Rowan to be deputy assistant secretary of state for public affairs. In that position, one of his jobs was to help integrate the department.

after he graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in January 1943.

Tresville, a Tuskeegee Airman, was the commander of the 100th Fighter Squadron when he was killed in action after his plane went down over the Mediterranean Sea in June 1944.

Vivien Rowan met Carl Rowan when she was a nursing student at the University of Minnesota. He was studying for a master's degree in journalism.

After they graduated, she worked as a school nurse while he covered civil rights issues for the Minneapolis Tribune. He died in 2000 after 50 years of marriage.

Vivien Rowan's survivors include a daughter from her first marriage, Barbara Jones of Clifton, Va.; two sons from her second marriage, Carl T. Rowan Jr. and Jeffrey Rowan, both of Washington; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

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