Brown, Ronald H.

Brown, Ronald H. (1941-1996), African American businessman and politician, who was the first African American to serve as chairman of a national political party, the first black chief counsel of a Senate standing committee, and the first black Secretary of Commerce.

Born in Washington, D.C., Ron Brown grew up in Harlem, New York. He graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont in 1962, after becoming the first black student to pledge a fraternity there. He enlisted in the United States Army. After his service, Brown worked for the National Urban League in New York while earning his law degree at night from St. John's University in 1970. He held several positions in the Urban League from 1968 to 1979, including general counsel, chief Washington spokesperson, deputy executive director, and vice president of Washington operations.

In Washington, D.C., Brown became active in the Democratic Party, and in 1979 he served as deputy manager of U.S. senator Edward Kennedy's presidential campaign. A year later Kennedy appointed him the chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. In 1982 Brown resigned from the senate committee to become deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). He left the DNC and politics in 1986 to become the first black law partner in the Washington firm of Patton, Boggs, and Blow.

In 1988 Brown returned to politics as the convention manager for the presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson. He was elected chairman of the DNC in 1989, the first African American in either political party to serve in that capacity. He is credited with uniting the splintered party, helping the party shape a moderate yet cohesive political platform, and assisting in the successful 1992 national campaign that propelled Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton into the presidency of the United States. In 1993, President Clinton appointed him Secretary of Commerce, and he is widely credited with using his organizational skills to energize the flailing department. He also traveled extensively around the world, seeking and securing trade partners, while aggressively promoting U.S. business interests abroad. Brown and 34 others were on a three-day economic tour of the Balkans for the Department of Commerce when their plane crashed during stormy weather near Dubrovnik, Croatia.


Contributed By:
Alonford James Robinson