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Ronald Harmon Brown

In office
January 22, 1993 – April 3, 1996
President Bill Clinton
Preceded by Barbara Hackman Franklin
Succeeded by Mickey Kantor

In office
1989 – 1993
Preceded by Paul G. Kirk
Succeeded by David Wilhelm

Born August 1, 1941(1941-08-01)
Washington, D.C.
Died April 3, 1996 (aged 54)
near Dubrovnik, Croatia
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Alma Arrington
Alma mater Middlebury College
St. John's University
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1962-1967

Ronald Harmon "Ron" Brown (August 1, 1941–April 3, 1996) was the United States Secretary of Commerce, serving during the first term of President Bill Clinton. He was the first African American to hold this position. He was killed, along with 34 others, in a 1996 plane crash in Croatia.


Early life and political career

1940s advertisement specifically targeting African Americans. The young boy is Ron Brown.[1]

He was born in Washington, D.C., and was raised in Harlem, New York, in a middle-class family. He was a member of the African-American social and philanthropic organization, Jack and Jill of America, where he met many African-American friends. Brown attended Hunter College Elementary School and Rhodes Preparatory School. His father managed the Theresa Hotel in Harlem, where Ron lived growing up. His best friend John R. Nailor moved into the penthouse while a student at Rhodes. Nailor was one of the other few black students who attended Rhodes Prep. As a child, he appeared in an advertisement for Pepsi-Cola, one of the first to be targeted specifically towards the African-American community.[1]

While at Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont, Ron Brown became the first African-American member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, a national men's collegiate fraternity. Brown joined the army in 1962, after graduating from Middlebury College in Vermont, and served in South Korea and Europe, the same year he married Alma Arrington. After being discharged in 1967, Brown joined the National Urban League, a 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.

Rising star in the Democratic Party

Ronald Harmon Brown at 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, D.C., law firm Patton, Boggs & Blow as a lawyer and a lobbyist.

In May, 1988, Brown was named by Jesse L. Jackson to head Jackson's convention team at the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta. Brown was named along with several other experienced party insiders to Jackson's convention operation. By June, it was apparent that Brown was also running Jackson's campaign.

Brown was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee on February 10, 1989, and played an integral role in running a successful 1992 Democratic National Convention and in Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential run. President Clinton then appointed Brown to the position of Secretary of Commerce in 1993.


USAF MH-53J Pave Low helicopter over wreckage of the USAF CT-43A approximately 3 kilometers north of the Dubrovnik Airport in Croatia, 4 April 1996.

On April 3, 1996, while on an official trade mission, the Air Force CT-43 (a modified Boeing 737) carrying Brown and 34 other people, including New York Times Frankfurt Bureau chief Nathaniel C. Nash, crashed in Croatia. While attempting an instrument approach to Čilipi airport, the airplane crashed into a mountainside. Everyone aboard was killed instantly except Air Force Tech. Sgt. Shelley Kelly, a flight attendant, who died while being transported to a hospital.[2] The final Air Force investigation attributed the crash to pilot error and a poorly designed landing approach.[3]


President Clinton established the Ron Brown Award for corporate leadership and responsibility. The Conference Board administers the privately funded award. S. C. Johnson & Son, Bayer Corporation, and Johnson & Johnson received the 2006 awards.

The U.S. Department of Commerce also gives out the annual Ronald H. Brown American Innovator Award in his honor.

The largest ship in the NOAA fleet, the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown, was named in honor of his public service not long after his death.

The California Black Chamber of Commerce, every August, holds the Ron Brown Business Economic Summit.

In his honor, Ronald H. Brown '62 fellowship is also awarded annually to a number of students at Middlebury College to pursue research internships in science and technology.

The Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development at St. John's University School of Law [4]

On January 8, 2001, Brown was presented, posthumously, with the Presidential Citizens Medal by President William Clinton. The award was accepted by Brown's widow, Alma Brown.


  1. ^ a b Martin, Douglas (May 6, 2007). "Edward F. Boyd Dies at 92; Marketed Pepsi to Blacks.". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-05-05.  
  2. ^ Pilot error, poor equipment blamed for Brown plane crash, from Published 7 June 1996; accessed 12 September 2008.
  3. ^ Department of Defense news article
  4. ^
  • Clinton, Bill (2005). My Life. Vintage. ISBN 1-4000-3003-X.

External links



  • Jack Cashill, Ron Brown's Body (WND Books, 2004) ISBN 0-7852-6237-7
Party political offices
Preceded by
Paul G. Kirk
Democratic National Committee Chairman
Succeeded by
David Wilhelm
Political offices
Preceded by
Barbara Hackman Franklin
United States Secretary of Commerce
Served under: Bill Clinton

January 22, 1993 – April 3, 1996
Succeeded by
Mickey Kantor


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