3 Facts About Ronald Harmon Brown, The First Black Chairman to Lead the U.S. Democratic Party



He is thought to have had a key influence in the victory of US President Bill Clinton in 1992, as well as in the search for his nomination to lead the Democratic Party. His political savvy and tactfulness in Washington politics were unrivaled, especially in his approach to working with the opposing side of the House to achieve his objectives.

Ronald Harmon Brown distinguished himself among his colleagues even before entering politics. He broke several barriers throughout his life, including being the first black person to lead a national political party’s Democratic National Committee and the first black person to serve as Secretary of Commerce.

He was also the first African American partner at Patton, Boggs, and Blow, as well as the first to join the Sigma Phil Epsilon fraternity. But, they were not the only accomplishments that distinguished Ronald during his lifetime. From his infancy to his political career, here are three things about him that you probably didn’t know.

His political consciousness was shaped at a young age

Ronald Harmon Brown, born on August 1, 1941, was formed by the significant personalities and civil rights activists that went through his family’s hotel, including notable figures such as Joe Louis, Dinah Washington, and Josephine Baker. His formative years were spent primarily at Hunter College Elementary School, a predominantly white public school.

According to the Library of Congress, he later attended White Plains High School and the Rhodes School in Manhattan, both of which were predominantly attended by children of middle-class Black Americans. In 1962, he completed his academic study at Middlebury College in Vermont. He struggled as a pre-med student but excelled academically after changing his major to political science.

His career began in the military

His first job was in the United States Army, where he served from 1962 to 1967, commanding many units that fought in Germany, South Korea, and the United States. He saw the military as a social leveler, where African Americans gained the recognition they deserved.

Ronald applied to St. John’s Law School after completing his military service in 1967, eager to return to civilian life. He accepted a temporary job as a social worker while in law school and later got a job with the National Urban League thanks to his mother’s assistance. This will later prove to be a watershed moment in his life and his eventual journey to national prominence. In 1968, he began his career with the League as a job developer-trainee adviser.

He persisted in his legal education, graduating from St. John’s University Law School in 1970 and being admitted to the bar a year later. He was elevated to deputy executive director for programs and governmental relations at the National Urban League five years later, and was then appointed director of the League’s Washington office in 1973, before moving into full-time political advocacy. This gave him firsthand knowledge of what it was like to be actively immersed in Washington politics.


He played a role in Bill Clinton’s electoral victory in 1992

After leaving the National Urban League in 1979, he entered politics and worked closely with Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee at the time. His role was to assist him in gaining black votes. Despite working for the law firm Patton, Boggs, and Blow, he was passionately engaged in national politics, and his position at the firm allowed him to meet with several key political circles as a lobbyist and lawyer.

He expressed his intention to run for chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1988 and was discouraged by members of the Democratic National Committee, but he relied on opposition leaders to convince their members to vote for him and ultimately won the job in 1989. He then assisted in the selection of Bill Clinton as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee and his subsequent electoral win in 1992.


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