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Encyclopedia > Ronald H. Brown
Photo of Ron Brown

Ronald Harmon Brown (August 1, 1941 - April 3, 1996), was the first black United States Secretary of Commerce, serving during the first term of President Bill Clinton.

He was born in Washington DC and was raised in Harlem, New York, in a middle-class black family.

Ron Brown was the first African-American member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, a national men's collegiate fraternity. Upon learning of Brown's membership, the National Headquarters of SigEp demanded that the chapter expel him or face closure of the chapter. The chapter declined to remove Brown and was shut down by the national organization, but was later re-opened. Brown joined the army in 1962, after graduating from Middlebury College in Vermont, and served in South Korea and Europe during his tenure. After being discharged in 1967, Brown joined the National Urban League, the 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.

Ronald Harmon Brown on podium

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 DC law firm Patton, Boggs & Blow as a lawyer and a lobbyist.

Brown was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1989, and played an integral role in Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential run. President Clinton rewarded Brown by appointing him Secretary of Commerce in 1993.

On April 3, 1996, while on a trade mission, the Air Force 737 carrying Brown and 34 other people crashed in Croatia, killing everyone onboard. 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, and apparently having prepared to negotiate a plea bargain at the time of the crash.

Preceded by:
Barbara Hackman Franklin
Secretary of Commerce
January 22, 1993 - April 3, 1996
Succeeded by:
Mickey Kantor



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