The UNM School of Law mourns the loss of alumna Barbara Brown Simmons

July 21, 2022

 Barbara Brown Simmons


The UNM School of Law mourns the loss of alumna Barbara Brown Simmons (’74). She was a woman of many firsts. Not only was she the first Black woman to graduate from the UNM School of Law, but she was also the first Black woman to become a member of the State Bar of New Mexico. She was a tremendous advocate and leader at the University and the greater community.

As an undergraduate at UNM, Barbara joined the NAACP and organized protests to make Black voices heard. She was instrumental in the creation of the Africana Studies department at UNM. In law school, Barbara served as the Black American Law Student Association Regional Director, responsible for recruiting Black law students to UNM. After law school, she was a co-founder of the UNM Alumni Association Black Alumni Chapter. She was a mentor and friend to many students over the years, and she was widely respected among her peers. 

“On my graduation day, when they called my name, one of the greatest honors of all was everyone in my class stood up and gave me a standing ovation. I was so moved by that because I didn’t see it coming. They continued to clap until I returned to my seat. I really appreciated that coming from my fellow law students.” Barbara said during her interview for the UNM Black Alumni Chapter Oral History Project, which she spearheaded. 

After graduating from UNM Law, Barbara went to work as a criminal defense attorney. She believed everyone was entitled to fair representation. After her long career, community involvement seemed more fitting to her pioneering spirit. She started pro bono work with homeless veterans. She also ran programs for the United Negro College Fund, with her goal of increasing students' self-esteem and encouraging them to stay in school. 

She was deeply committed to UNM Law, and the greater University community is better because of her. Thank you, Barbara, for sharing your light with us.

As we mourn Mrs. Barbara Brown Simmons’ passing, we also celebrate her life. She was inspirational, groundbreaking, and deeply committed to justice. Her legacy lives on at the University and the Law School. We honor her work and her invaluable contributions.

– Camille Carey, Dean of the UNM School of Law

Barbara Simmons being the first Black woman to graduate from UNM School of Law, blazed a trail ensuring other Black women like myself had a path to follow. I hold deep gratitude for her paving the way for us.

– The Hon. Shammara Henderson (’07), NM Court of Appeals & UNM Law Adjunct Professor 

I send my deepest condolences to Mrs. Barbara Brown Simmons’ family. I believe that the Black community has lost a true legend and leader. Mrs. Barbara Brown Simmons paved the way for many young Black women like myself. She was the representation and fierce model needed then so that we could see ourselves in the New Mexico legal community now. Mrs. Simmons dared to test the limits and courageously accomplished real change; I am forever grateful.

– Ty'Queese Keyes (’24), President, Black Law Student Association

Mrs. Barbara Brown Simmons’ legacy is perpetual. She achieved innumerable firsts, all while building organizations to support those who would come after her and memorializing the history of Black New Mexicans for future generations.

– Aja N. Brooks (’08), President NM Black Lawyers Association

I was so sorry to hear about the passing of Barbara Brown Simmons. Her 1960s paper, “Break the Chains” and student leadership led to the creation of Black Studies Program at The University of New Mexico which just this year became an academic department. Ms. Brown Simmons was a tireless advocate until her last days for the well-being of Black students at UNM. I am thankful for her passion and commitment.

 – Sonia M. Gipson Rankin, Associate Professor of Law, UNM School of Law