Remembering Ron Brown; the first black person to head a major presidential cabinet position in U.S.

Mohammed Awal June 19, 2020

Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Harlem, New York, in a middle-class family, Ron Brown was a figure of global eminence, treasured for his intellectual acumen, political and leadership savviness at the time of his death in 1996.

Killed along with 32 other Americans, Brown was flying on the Air Force T-43 plane from Tuzla, Bosnia, to the port city of Dubrovnik, Croatia when it crashed into a mountain near Dubrovnik, Croatia.

According to airport officials, the plane disappeared from radar screens at 7:50 a.m. EST, about five minutes before it was to land, CNN reported.

He was leading a delegation of 12 chief business executives from American companies to the former Yugoslavia to explore business opportunities that might help rebuild the war-torn region.

Brown attended Middlebury College in Vermont, where he became the first African American member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, the reported.

He joined the United States Army in 1962, after graduating from Middlebury, served for four years with postings to Germany and Korea. He earned a law degree from St. John’s University, attending classes at night while working first as a welfare caseworker for the City of New York, then for the National Urban League.

Brown became involved in politics during his 12 years stint with the Urban League where he served as Deputy Executive Director, General Counsel, and Vice President of the Washington bureau.

He worked on Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1980 followed by an appointment as chief counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee under the chairmanship of the Senator. He also served as the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s convention manager in his 1988 bid for the presidency.

In 1989, he was elected chairman of the Democratic Party National Committee, becoming the first African American to hold the top position in a major political party in the United States. 

As chairman, he played a crucial role in securing the 1992 election of Bill Clinton, the first Democratic president in 12 years. In 1993, Clinton appointed Brown to be the first African American secretary of commerce, a position he held until his death in 1996.

On January 8, 2001, Brown was presented, posthumously, with the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Bill Clinton. The award was accepted by Brown’s widow, Alma Brown.

Last Edited by:Mohammed Awal Updated: June 20, 2020


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