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Brown, Ronald H.

Brown, Ronald H.

August 1, 1941
April 3, 1996

Born in Washington, D.C., to William H. and Gloria Osborne Carter Brown, Ronald Brown, a politician, graduated from Middlebury College in 1962 and joined the U.S. Army. He served from 1963 to 1967 and was discharged with the rank of captain. In 1970 he graduated from St. John's University School of Law and went to work at the National Urban League, where he served as general counsel, chief Washington spokesperson, deputy executive director, and vice-president of Washington operations from 1968 to 1979. In 1980 Brown became chief counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and in 1981 he was general counsel and staff director for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.

Brown joined a private law practice for the first time in 1981, when he became a partner in the Washington firm of Patton, Boggs, and Blow. His desire to return to politics was realized in 1989 when the Democrats selected him as their national chairman, the first African American to chair a major political party. Brown was assigned the task of rebuilding a dispirited party after the unsuccessful presidential campaign of 1988. His diplomacy and organizational skills were praised by both participants and observers following the 1992 Democratic National Convention in New York. In 1993 he was appointed secretary of commerce by President Bill Clinton.

Brown was a close Clinton adviser, as well as a visible and controversial figure, during his years in the Commerce Department. Though dogged by Republican charges of corruption and income tax evasion, he also was celebrated for his economic diplomacy, by which he sought to obtain trade agreements and open markets for the United States in countries such as China. On April 3, 1996, while on a trip to Croatia, Brown and his party were killed in an airplane crash.

See also National Urban League; Politics and Political Parties, U.S.


Brown, Tracey L. The Life and Times of Ron Brown. New York: Morrow, 1998.

Holmes, Steven A. Ron Brown: An Uncommon Life. New York: Wiley, 2000.

christine a. lunardini (1996)
Updated bibliography

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