Brown, Corrine 1946–
Corrine Brown 1946–
Corrine Brown, elected to the United States House of Representatives from Florida’s Third District in 1992, was the first African American sent to Congress from Florida since the Reconstruction years of the nineteenth century. An outspoken and combative figure, she stood at the center of two of the most important issues affecting African American politicians during the 1990s. The use of redistricting to increase African American representation in Congress was a hotly debated issue for most of the decade. And at the end of the 1990s, Brown was subjected to an ethics investigation over her treatment of a West African millionaire who had given expensive gifts to her daughter. She became one of a number of African American elected officials whose dealings received closer-than-usual scrutiny.
A divorced mother of one, Brown was born in Jacksonville, Florida, on November 11, 1946. Graduating with a bachelor of science degree from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee in 1969, she went on to earn her master’s degree in 1971, and an education specialist degree from the University of Florida three years later. Returning to her hometown, Brown taught at Florida Community College from 1977 to 1982 and then worked as a guidance counselor, a post she held until she ran for Congress in 1992. She is also the owner of the Springfield Travel Agency.
Brown was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1982. She served five terms, gaining wide recognition in the Jacksonville area, and serving as a delegate to the 1988 Democratic National Convention. After the 1990 census, the Florida legislature carved out a new Third Congressional District in the northern part of the state. This district was designed to enclose an African American majority within its boundaries. Snaking through the old plantation country around the St. Johns River and Cross Creek and touching on predominantly African American neighborhoods in Jacksonville, Gainesville, Orlando, and Ocala, the Third District “seemed likely to send Florida’s first” African American to Congress in over a hundred years, and Brown jumped at the chance to compete for this prize.
Brown faced several candidates in the 1992 Democratic
At a Glance…
Born November 11, 1946, in Jacksonville, FL; single. Education: Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Tallahassee, Florida, B.S., 1969; University of Florida, Ed.S. education degree, 1974. Religion: Baptist.
Career: United States Representative, Third District of Florida, member of the Democratic Party. Taught at University of Florida, 1970s; faculty member, Florida Community College, Jacksonville, 1977–82; guidance counselor, Florida Community College, 1982–92; elected to Florida House of Representatives, 1982; delegate, Democratic National Convention, 1988; elected to U.S. House of Representatives, 1992; re-elected in 1994, 1996, and 1998.
Addresses: Office—2444 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515.
primary, but the strongest opponent to emerge was a flamboyant white talk radio host from Jacksonville named Andy Johnson. Johnson, according to the Almanac of American Politics, called himself “the blackest candidate in the race.” Brown defeated Johnson in the primary and in a two-candidate runoff, and went on to win the general election in November of 1992 by a 59 to 41 percent margin.
Combative from the start, Brown had admirers and detractors. Upon her arrival in Congress, she challenged the discriminatory treatment that minority motorists received in one of the rural counties that flanked Interstate 95, the main north-south route connecting the cities along Florida’s coastline. She also worked diligently to bring economic development dollars to northern Florida. Although Brown voted mainly with the House’s liberal Democratic bloc, she sat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and was generally sympathetic to military concerns. Although the Republicans won control of the House following the 1994 congressional elections, Brown was easily re-elected.
During the next election cycle, Brown was faced with new challenges. In 1995, the boundaries of the Third District were struck down due to their irregular shape, and the percentage of African American residents of the district declined to about 47 percent. One of the main instigators of the lawsuit that led to the redistricting was Brown’s old political rival, Andy Johnson. Brown railed against the change, complaining that “[t]he Bubba I beat [Johnson] couldn’t win at the ballot box [so] he took it to court,” as she was quoted as saying in the New Republic.
Nevertheless, Brown faced a white majority smaller than those which confronted Georgia Democrats Cynthia McKinney and Sanford Bishop in the wake of the same court decision, and her district remained strongly Democratic. On Election Day in 1996, she won a convincing victory of 61 to 39 percent. Brown continued to work hard for her district, spearheading the construction of an $86 million federal courthouse in Jacksonville and using her seat on the House’s Transportation Committee to set in motion various rail projects intended to alleviate central Florida’s growing highway congestion. However, the most difficult challenge of Brown’s Congressional tenure was yet to come.
In June of 1998, allegations surfaced that Brown’s daughter Shantrel, a lawyer who worked for the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, had received a $50,000 Lexus LS 400 automobile as a gift from an agent of a Gambian millionaire named Foutanga Sissoko. Sissoko, a friend of Congresswoman Brown, had been imprisoned in Miami after pleading guilty to charges of bribing a customs officer. Brown had worked to secure his release, pressuring U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to deport Sissoko back to his homeland as an alternative to continued incarceration. Shantrel Brown later admitted at least the appearance of impropriety by selling the car and donating the proceeds to the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s scholarship fund.
Brown, however, angrily denied wrongdoing. She filed a complaint of conspiracy to impede a member of Congress against two reporters from the St. Petersburg Times who tried to ask her about the case (the charges were later dismissed), and faxed a statement to Editor & Publisher magazine, which covered the controversy involving the reporters. In the statement, Brown remarked that “[i]t is unfortunate that the civil rights movement in this country must always prove itself—even defend itself when no defense should be necessary.” Questions were also raised about the lack of documentation for a $10,000 donation made to Brown by the Rev. Henry Lyons, a controversial Baptist church leader who faced indictment on theft charges. Brown again denied any wrongdoing.
In the 1998 congressional election, Republicans tried to capitalize on Brown’s political troubles by recruiting an African American candidate of their own. Their candidate, Bill Randall, was controversial in his own right. Much of the controversy centered around Randall’s past nonpayment of taxes, and allegations that he had fathered a child out of wedlock. Although Republican heavyweights Newt Gingrich, Alan Keyes, and Christie Whitman campaigned for Randall, Brown won reelection by a margin of 55 to 45 percent.
Observers speculated that Brown had successfully weathered the political storms that had swirled around her. However, in June of 1999, the House Ethics Committee finally addressed the charges against Brown relating to Sissoko’s gift to her daughter. “I am confident,” Brown told the Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, “that these charges…will also be finally put to rest.”
Barone, Michael, and Grant Ujifusa. The Almanac of American Politics: 2000. National Journal, 1999.
1997–1998 Congressional Directory: 105th Congress. United States Government Printing Office, 1997.
Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, January 16, 1993.
Editor & Publisher, August 1, 1998, p. 10.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, June 14,1999.
New Republic, November 4, 1996, p. 18.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from www.house.gov/corrinebrown/bio.htm.
—James M. Manheim
"Brown, Corrine 1946–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 23, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/brown-corrine-1946
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