Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Ronald Brown (1993–1996): Secretary of Commerce

Ron Brown served as the first African American secretary of commerce from 1993 until his death in a plane crash in Croatia in 1996.

Brown was born in Washington, D.C., in 1941 and received his undergraduate degree from Middlebury College in 1962. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and, from 1962 to 1967, commanded several units in the United States, Germany, and South Africa.

Returning to civilian life in 1967, Brown entered St. John's University Law School, where he earned his law degree in 1970. While studying law, Brown began his career with the National Urban League (1968). In the eleven years he spent there (1968-1979), he served as a developer-trainee adviser (1968-1976) and deputy executive director for programs and governmental affairs (1976-1979).

Upon leaving the National Urban League, Brown worked for a short time as the deputy campaign manager for Senator Edward Kennedy. From 1981 to 1986, Brown was a lobbyist and lawyer with the law firm of Patton, Boggs & Blow.

Immediately prior to joining the Clinton administration, Brown was elected to the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, a position he held from 1987 to 1993.