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Brown finally receives birth certificate at age 76
Brown birth certificate.jpg
Annie Ruth Brown was first featured by the Southern Standard in September 2019 after being denied her birth certificate by the state of Tennessee. It took two years, but Brown holds what could be the most important document a United States citizen can have: a birth certificate. - photo by Lisa Hobbs

A struggle with bureaucratic red tape has come to an end for Annie Ruth Brown. 

“She received her birth certificate in the mail,” said Linda Wilkerson, Brown’s niece. “She is so excited. It shouldn’t have taken all this, but it’s over and she’s delighted to finally have a copy of her birth certificate.”

Brown, 76, applied for a birth certificate in early 2019 after being told that photo ID would be needed if she wanted to continue receiving assistance with utility bills from Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency. 

Born in November 1944 and legally blind since birth, birth certificates and photo ID weren’t as necessary as they are today.

In the United States today, birth certificates serve as proof of an individual’s age, citizenship status, and identity. They are necessary to obtain a Social Security number, apply for a passport, enroll in schools, get a driver’s license, photo ID, gain employment, or apply for other benefits. 

With the onset of COVID-19 and vaccines now available, Brown also found herself unable to receive a vaccination shot because she did not have a photo ID.

“She was born in ’44 into a rural community,” said Wilkerson. “They were concerned about where their next meal came from and not paperwork. Nobody knew back then how important a birth certificate would be. It’s very important. Today, you don’t exist without one.” 

Wilkerson stepped in to help her aunt with the paperwork, which she described as rather extensive, and submitted it. 

A letter from the Special Services Vital Records Division at the Tennessee Department of Health dated Aug. 26, 2019, denied the request due to inconsistencies in Brown’s county of birth.

“We have received a Social Security numident that states Annie’s name is ‘Annie Ruth Brown,’ her date of birth as ‘11/17/44’ and her place of birth as ‘Woodbury Cannon County TN.’ We have received an fact sheet that states Annie’s name as ‘Annie Ruth Brown,’ her date of birth as ‘11/17/44’ and her place of birth as ‘Warren County TN.’”

Wilkerson said a relative, whose identity is unknown, may have believed Brown was born in Warren County due to her mailing address being Morrison.

Wilkerson obtained and submitted a State of Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Real Estate Assessment Data that listed the mailing address as Morrison, but the parcel of land is in Cannon County. 

Clarification did not result in issuance of a birth certificate.

The Southern Standard interviewed the ladies in September 2019. That feature story caught the attention of local resident Thomas Vaugh Sr., who contacted state Sen. Janice Bowling. Both individuals began working behind the scenes. A follow-up column was feature in March 2021 by the newspaper. 

The plight caught the attention of Gov. Bill Lee, who intervened on Brown’s behalf, and a birth certificate was issued on April 4, 2021. 

“I know this wouldn’t have happened without the Southern Standard,” said Wilkerson. “We can’t thank you enough. We also appreciate all that Mr. Vaughn and Sen. Bowling did to help. This was a long struggle, but it’s finally over.”

What’s next?

“We’re going to get her photo ID and right after that, her first COVID-19 vaccine,” said Wilkerson. “I’ve had my first shot and I’m waiting on my second. Now, thanks to this birth certificate, she can have her first one.”