This Day In History: February 10, 1989

Ronald H. Brown, a former Supreme Court lawyer and leader of the National Urban League, is elected chairman of the Democratic Party National Committee. He was the first African American to hold the top position in a major political party in the United States.

Brown, born in Washington, D.C., in 1941, was raised in New York City’s Harlem, where he worked as a welfare caseworker before joining the U.S. Army. After holding important positions in the National Urban League, an advocacy group for the renewal of inner cities, he became a member of the U.S. Supreme Court bar and served as chief counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

As chairman of the Democratic Party, Brown played a pivotal role in securing the 1992 election of Bill Clinton, the first Democratic president in 12 years. In 1993, he was appointed America’s first African American secretary of commerce by President Clinton, a capacity in which he served until April 3, 1996, when he and 32 other Americans were killed when their plane crashed into a mountain in Croatia. Brown had been leading a delegation of business executives to the former Yugoslavia to explore business opportunities that might help rebuild the war-torn region.

D. K. Smith

D. K. Smith

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