Brown, Hubert Gerold ("H. Rap")
BROWN, Hubert Gerold ("H. Rap")
(b. 4 October 1943 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana), political activist and head of the Nonviolent Action Group (NAG), who in 1967 was elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), but became increasingly militant and was listed on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list in 1970.
Brown was the youngest of three children of Eddie C. Brown and Thelma Warren. His father was on active duty in the U.S. military during World War II when Brown was born, and later went to work for Esso Standard Oil Company as a laborer. Brown acquired the nickname "Rap" as a youngster. He became politically involved as a high school student in 1960, when he led his class in a protest march to the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C., an effort for which the entire high school class received a two-day suspension.
Brown enrolled at Southern University in Baton Rouge at age fifteen and came to odds with school administrators very quickly. During this time he gained notoriety as a civil rights organizer and later as a black militant, going by the name of H. Rap Brown. In 1962 he spent the summer in Washington, D.C., with a group of students who formed the core of the SNCC, among them Stokely Carmichael. During the summer of 1963 Brown spent a week in Cambridge, Maryland, where the Cambridge Revolt, a civil rights movement led by Gloria Richardson, was under way.
In 1964, when the SNCC initiated the Mississippi Summer Project, a voter-registration drive, Brown spent approximately four weeks in Holmes County. He attended the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City later that summer in a show of support for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), which was based on a platform that challenged the Democratic party of Mississippi for failing to represent the state's African-American population. Brown was outraged when the Democrats refused to seat MFDP delegates at the convention. In the fall of 1964 he abandoned college and returned to Washington, D.C., to work at the Department of Agriculture. With the civil rights movement spreading throughout the United States, Brown spent a great deal of time shuttling back and forth from Washington to SNCC national headquarters in Atlanta. He was elected in 1965 to serve as chairman of NAG, an organization closely affiliated with Howard University, and in that capacity headed delegations to see U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and President Lyndon B. Johnson. These meetings raised ire on both sides of the table and led columnist Drew Pearson to note Brown's "ill abuse" toward Johnson.
Brown worked with the United Planning Organization in Washington in 1964, and was later reassigned to work with a police–community relations program, where he proved particularly charismatic in improving dialogue between the two sides. Nevertheless, Brown believed that only so-called Uncle Tomism could motivate African Americans to serve in law enforcement. Annoyed by social programs that appeared to patronize minority interests, he withdrew from involvement with all such programs by the end of 1965. Highly antagonistic toward the white race, members of which he habitually called "honky," Brown made generous use of crude and obscene rhetoric in stating his case, and grew increasingly militant, threatening to "Burn America down." By 1968, he had attained the status of justice minister in the militant Black Panther Party.
Brown was arrested on a concealed weapons charge in 1966, in what was the first in an ongoing series of skirmishes with law-enforcement officers. He secured his own release and moved to Greene County, Alabama, to oversee the Greene County Project, a voter registration drive. In May 1967 he was elected chairman of SNCC, and at the end of July he revisited Cambridge, Maryland, where he spoke at an event orchestrated by Gloria Richardson. After his speech, for which he was accused of inciting a riot, FBI agents apprehended Brown at the airport in Washington, as he attempted to depart for New York City. Brown was then held in jail in Alexandria and subsequently charged with inciting a riot in Cambridge. During that incarceration he wrote the first of his "Letters from Jail." Among the thoughts expressed in these writings, Brown wrote, "I consider myself neither morally nor legally bound to obey laws which were made by a group of white 'lawmakers' who did not let my people be represented in making those laws."
Brown was released, but was arrested again for carrying a rifle en route to Baton Rouge from New York City. In February 1968 in New Orleans he began a hunger strike from his prison cell and penned a second "Letter from Jail" on 21 February, stating: "No slave should die a natural death. There is a point where caution ends and cowardice begins." A third letter, dated 2 March 1968, follows the same tone as the two prior letters and closes with "Yours in Revolution, H. Rap Brown." Brown spent a total of forty-three days in jail in New Orleans, and fasted the entire time. Eventually his bond was reduced from $100,000 to $30,000, but only to facilitate his extradition to Virginia, where he was held in an underground cell with daylight visible only from an overhead grate. This incident, in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., served to indicate the extent to which state and federal governments feared a possible uprising among the African-American population.
Brown was convicted of armed robbery in 1973 and paroled in 1976. While in prison in the early 1970s, Brown embraced the religion of Islam, changing his name to Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin. Considerably subdued and reinvented as a Muslim cleric, he moved to Atlanta upon his release. There he operated the Community Store until he was arrested in April of 2000 and charged with murdering a police officer. Brown was convicted of the crime in 2002.
Brown married Lynne Doswell, a schoolteacher, on 3 May 1968. The marriage ended, and he took a second wife, Karima, with whom he fathered two children.
Brown's autobiography, Die, Nigger, Die (1969), was republished in 2002, with an updated foreword by Ekwueme Michael Thelwell. In 1993 Brown wrote a book of Islamic philosophy, Revolution by the Book: The Rap Is Live. See also Jack E. White, "Dividing Line: Rap Brown's Deadly Return: A Legendary Black Militant Is Accused of Murder," Time (3 Apr. 2000), and "H. Rap Brown Arrested, Charged With Killing Sheriff's Deputy in Atlanta," Jet (10 Apr. 2000).