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Brown, Roscoe C., Jr.(1922–) - Military officer, pilot, college president, Becomes World War II Pilot, Becomes Community Servant, Chronology

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Adecorated military veteran, college president, and media personality, Roscoe Conkling Brown Jr. refused to go along with the racism of his era. Instead, he resisted discrimination and never let it stop him from pursuing and achieving his goals. He became a superior combat pilot at a time when many ranking members of the U.S. Air Corps believed African Americans lacked the ability to become pilots. As an educator he was the president of Bronx Community College and helped to restore the institution’s Hall of Fame for Great Americans, the first hall of fame in the United States. Brown also hosted television programs and produced videos documenting the history and experience of black America. In later life Roscoe continued to show his commitment to equality and civil rights as he demonstrated against injustice.

Roscoe Conkling Brown Jr. was born on March 9, 1922 in Washington D.C. to a renowned black family. Brown’s father, Roscoe Conkling Brown Sr., practiced medicine in Washington D.C. at the beginning of the twentieth century and served as the Negro Specialist of the United States Public Health Service and on Theodore Roosevelt’s black cabinet. Brown’s mother, Vivian Kemp Brown, was a teacher in the D.C. public school system. Both parents instilled a strong work ethic in Roscoe and a respect for education that he carried into adulthood.

Brown is the younger of two children and, along with his sister Portia Brown who died in 1984, attended segregated schools in Washington D.C. He graduated from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Washington D.C, earned his B.S. from Springfield College in Massachusetts (1943), and his M.A. (1949) and Ph.D. (1951) from New York University. During the 1940s Brown participated in the distinguished and well-established D.C. area sport programs.

Becomes World War II Pilot

Brown wanted to be a pilot when many people believed African Americans were intellectually inferior and that blacks lacked the coordination needed to fly a plane. The common belief did not dissuade him and other black men determined to become pilots and prove the prejudiced theory wrong. He and over nine hundred other black men learned how to fly in a training program at Tuskegee Institute (now University), a black college in Alabama.

In 1943, Brown joined the armed forces and became a member of the 332nd Fighter Group, a black fighter squadron whose core was the Tuskegee trained pilots, later becoming a squadron commander for the group during the war. Brown flew his first combat mission in August 1944 and completed a total of sixty-eight missions. His assignment as a combat pilot was to escort B-17 bombers to their destinations in the Balkans, Austria, and Germany. When Brown shot down an enemy ME-262 jet fighter while he was escorting a B-17 bomber to a German tank works, he became the first pilot in the 15th Air Force to do so. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with eight oak leaf clusters. As a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, or Red-tails, known for their P-51 Mustang fighters’ paint schemes, his unit’s record of shooting down 111 enemy aircraft in the air and 150 enemy aircraft on the ground played an important role in changing the segregationist policies of the U.S. Air Corps. Their record during the war influenced President Harry S. Truman’s decision to integrate the armed forces in 1948. The combat unit received the Presidential Unit Citation, one of the highest honors a combat unit can receive.

Before the war, Brown had attended Springfield College in Massachusetts where he majored in three areas—pre-medical, chemistry, and health physical education. Brown was awarded a B.S. upon graduation in 1943 and was class valedictorian. Instead of using his college degree to find employment after he came out of the military in 1945, Brown sought employment as a pilot with Eastern Airlines in New York City, relying on his military experience instead of his education. However, he was told Eastern Airlines did not hire black pilots. After being denied that job, he found employment as a social investigator in New York City. He remained there for about six months. Brown also worked as a physical education teacher at West Virginia State College for a short time where he had the opportunity to coach Earl Lloyd, one of the first black players in the NBA.

By 1949 Brown earned an M.A. at New York University (NYU), and in 1951 he was awarded a PhD. from the same institution. Once again Brown had a taken a triple major, focusing on exercise physiology, educational psychology, and educational research as a doctoral candidate. After completing his doctorate, Brown joined the School of Education at New York University where he became a full professor. He was a faculty member at NYU for more than twenty-five years. In 1960 while at New York University, Brown became the director of the Institute of Afro-American Affairs and remained its director until 1967. From 1977 to 1993 he served as president of Bronx Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY). In 1993, Brown became director of the Center for Urban Education Policy at the Graduate School and University Center of CUNY.

Becomes Community Servant

Brown serves on the boards of many non-profit organizations. He has served as chairman of the New York City Regional Educational Center for Economic Development, and is a member of the National Board of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. He has also served on the boards of the American Council on Education, the YMCA of Greater New York, the Fund for the City of New York, the New York Botanical Garden, the New York City Partnership, the Museum of the City of New York, and the City Parks Foundation. Brown is chairman of the Greater Harlem Nursing Home and the Sports Foundation and is past president of One Hundred Black Men Inc., an influential group of civic-minded New Yorkers. He is vice-chairman of the Black Leadership Commission on AIDS. Brown has been appointed by the governor to the New York State Job Training and Partnership Council and the New York State Health, Fitness, and Sports Council. He chaired the Urban Issues Group, a think tank devoted to the concerns of the African American community. He is a member of the Jackie Robinson Foundation and Libraries for the Future.

A media personality, Brown hosted the television program African American Legends , and was awarded an Emmy in 1973 for the distinguished television series Black Arts . He hosted other black-oriented programs, including the Soul of Reason , and was co-host of WCBS’s Black Letters and WNBC-TV’s A Black Perspective . Brown is the co-author of widely read used references such as the Negro Almanac and the author of more than sixty articles in scholarly journals.


1922 Born in Washington D.C. on March 9

1943 Earns B.S. from Spring field College, Massachusetts

1943–45 Serves as pilot in U.S. Air Force; receives Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal

1945 Applies for position as pilot with Eastern Airlines; works as social investigator in New York City for six months

1946 Teaches physical education at West Virginia State College

1949 Earns M.A. from New York University

1951 Earns Ph.D. from New York University; becomes professor at School of Education at New York University, where here mains for twenty-five years

1960 Becomes director of the Institute of Afro-American Affairs at New York University, where here mains until 1967

1973 Receives Emmy award for Black Arts television series

1977 Becomes president of Bronx Community College of the City University of New York, where he remains until 1993

1993 Becomes director of the Center for Urban Education Policy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

Brown, Roscoe Lee (1925–) [next] [back] Brown, Ray(mond Matthews)

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over 6 years ago

Dr. Brown, I entered NYU as a freshman when you had already earned your Ph.D. When I finally met you I understood why all the girls had a crush on you. You were good looking, charming, articulate, polite, considerate, all those things we hope to find in a partner or to raise our children to be.
I hope that this finds you still active in Riverdale. And who was the lucky girl that shared your life with?

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over 7 years ago

I am very interested in contacting Dr. Brown. I served under him at NYU's War on Poverty program, Project Apex, in 1964/65. He may well remember me, since there were only two graduate students serving as RA's living in the dorms with 60 young men from Harlem and the south Bronx.

Thank you,

Jeffrey Reiss
Denver, CO.