Mildred Brown was born in Bessemer, Alabama in 1915 to a prominent black family. Her father was a well-regarded minister. Later, Mildred would become a widely known and respected civil rights activist and champion of the African American community in Omaha.
At the age of only 16 in 1931, Mildred graduated from Miles Memorial Teachers College in Birmingham, Alabama. She became an English teacher, but after marrying S. Edward Gilbert in 1936, she moved with him to Chicago and then Des Moines. There she attended Drake University in journalism.
The couple moved again, this time to Sioux City, Iowa where Gilbert became the editor of the Silent Messenger. Mildred sold ads and wrote copy for news stories.
This experience prepared them for creating their own newspaper, the Omaha Star.