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Sun Feb 10, 2019, 07:07 AM

30 Years Ago Today; Ron Brown named DNC Chair - 1st African-American to lead major party

Wikipedia


Ronald Harmon Brown (August 1, 1941 April 3, 1996) was an American politician. He served as the United States Secretary of Commerce during the first term of President Bill Clinton. Prior to this he was chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). He was the first African American to hold these positions. He was killed, along with 34 others, in a 1996 plane crash in Croatia.

Early life and political career
Ron Brown was born in Washington, D.C., and was raised in Harlem, New York, in a middle-class family. He was a member of an African-American social and philanthropic organization, Jack and Jill of America. Brown attended Hunter College Elementary School and Rhodes Preparatory School. His father managed the Theresa Hotel in Harlem, where Brown lived growing up. His best friend John R. Nailor moved into the penthouse while a student at Rhodes. Nailor was one of the other few black students who attended Rhodes Prep. As a child, Brown appeared in an advertisement for Pepsi-Cola, one of the first to be targeted specifically towards the African-American community

While at Middlebury College, Ron Brown became the first African-American member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, collegiate fraternity. As a result, the national charter of SPE at Middlebury was rescinded and the fraternity became a local known as Sigma Epsilon. Brown joined the United States Army in 1962, after graduating from Middlebury, and served in South Korea and Europe, the same year he married Alma Arrington. After being discharged in 1967, Brown joined the National Urban League, a leading economic equality group in the United States. Meanwhile, Brown enrolled in law school at St. John's University and obtained a degree in 1970.

Rise in the Democratic Party
By 1976, Brown had been promoted to Deputy Executive Director for Programs and Governmental Affairs of the National Urban League. However, he resigned in 1979 to work as a deputy campaign manager for Senator Edward M. Kennedy, who sought the Democratic Party's presidential nomination.

Brown was hired in 1981 by the Washington, D.C., law firm Patton Boggs as a lawyer and a lobbyist.

In May 1988, Brown was named by Jesse L. Jackson to head Jackson's convention team at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. Brown was named along with several other experienced party insiders to Jackson's convention operation. By June, it was apparent that Brown was also running Jackson's campaign.

Chair of Democratic National Committee
Brown was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee on February 10, 1989, and played an integral role in running a successful 1992 Democratic National Convention and in Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential run.

Secretary of Commerce
President Clinton then appointed Brown to the position of Secretary of Commerce in 1993.

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Death
Main article: 1996 Croatia USAF CT-43 crash

USAF MH-53J Pave Low helicopter over wreckage of the USAF CT-43A approximately 3 kilometers north of the Dubrovnik Airport in Croatia, April 4, 1996.

On April 3, 1996, when Brown was 54 and on an official trade mission, a U.S. Air Force CT-43 (a modified Boeing 737) carrying Brown and 34 other people, including New York Times Frankfurt Bureau chief Nathaniel C. Nash, crashed in Croatia. While attempting an instrument approach to Dubrovnik's Čilipi airport, the airplane crashed into a mountainside. Everyone aboard was killed instantly except Air Force Tech. Sgt. Shelly Kelly, a flight attendant, who died while being transported to a hospital. The final Air Force investigation attributed the crash to pilot error and a poorly designed landing approach. Speculations as to the circumstances surrounding the plane crash that caused Brown's death include many government cover-up and conspiracy theories, largely based on Brown having been under investigation by independent counsel for corruption. Of specific concern was a trip Brown had made to Vietnam on behalf of the Clinton Administration. Brown carried an offer for normalizing relations between the United States and the former communist enemy.

Some, including Kweisi Mfume - head of the NAACP at the time - and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, had written federal officials to ask for more data on the suspicious circumstances of Brown's death. "Responding to homicide allegations, an official of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology acknowledged that doctors initially were puzzled by a circular wound on the top of Brown's head when his remains were recovered at the crash scene. The forensic pathologist then consulted with others and took extensive X-rays. As a result of these consultations and full-body X-rays, we absolutely ruled out anything beyond a blunt-force injury to the head."

Brown was buried with full state honors in his hometown.

Honors and legacy
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. President Clinton also established the Ron Brown Award for corporate leadership and responsibility. The Conference Board administers the privately funded award. The U.S. Department of Commerce also gives out the annual Ronald H. Brown American Innovator Award in his honor.

Many academic scholarships and programs have been established to honor Brown. St. John's University School of Law established the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development in memorial. The Ronald H. Brown fellowship is awarded annually to many students at Middlebury College to pursue research internships in science and technology, and the Ron Brown Scholar Program was established in Brown's honor in 1996 to provide academic scholarships, service opportunities and leadership experiences for young African Americans of outstanding promise.

A memorial room has been installed in the Ronald Brown memorial house in the old city of Dubrovnik. It features portraits of the crash victims as well as a guest book.

The largest ship in the NOAA fleet, the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown, was named in honor of his public service not long after his death. The section of 14th Street between Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenue was renamed Ron Brown Way.

In March 2011, the new United States Mission to the United Nations building in New York City was named in Brown's honor and dedicated at a ceremony in which President Obama, former President Clinton and the United States representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Susan Rice, spoke.

In 1997, The Daniel C. Roper Middle School in Washington, DC was renamed the Ronald H. Brown Middle School in his honor. That school was closed in 2013 and the building reopened as the Ronald Brown College Preparatory High School in 2016.

His son Michael Brown was elected to the Council of the District of Columbia in 2008.

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