Partial Transcript: Good morning, my name is Erica Bender-Wooten.
Segment Synopsis: Judge Brown discusses his childhood and his family life while growing up in New York City.
Keywords: Academic achievement; Advanced placement; Bronx; Educational system; Fathers; High schools; Junior high schools; Magnet schools; Manhattan; Military; Mothers; New York City (N.Y.); Parents; School system; Values
Subjects: African American families; African Americans--Education.; African Americans--Social conditions.; Childhood; Neighborhoods.
Partial Transcript: So that's how I wound up at Bronx High School of Science.
Segment Synopsis: Judge Brown discusses his experiences in high school, college, and his time in the Army.
Keywords: Arlington National Cemetery; Bronx High School of Science; Demographics; Deployment; Diversity; Enrollment; Fort Bragg; Funeral services; Infantry; North Korea; Prejudice; ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps); Scholarships; Science; Social life; Student body; Vietnam War
Subjects: African Americans--Education.; African Americans--Military service; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Race discrimination.; Racism; United States--Race relations.; United States. Army.
Partial Transcript: So now I'm back and I go back to, you know, various other assignments in the Army.
Segment Synopsis: Judge Brown discusses his time at law school while he was on leave from the Army.
Keywords: Adjunct; Army; Bar exam; Bias; Commissions; Criminal procedures; Diversity; JAG Officers; Law review; Law schools; Military; Minorities; Recruitment; Resignation; Second class citizenship; Student body; University of Louisville
Subjects: African American college students--Social conditions; African American law students; African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Social conditions.; Law--Study and teaching
Partial Transcript: What type of legal work did you get into out of law school?
Segment Synopsis: Judge Brown discusses his experiences after law school and his short time as a judge.
Keywords: Campaigns; Circuit court; District court; Dockets; Judgeship; Law firms; Legacies; Legal clerk; Murder trials; Trials
Subjects: African American judges; African American lawyers; African Americans--Politics and government.; Judges--Election; Judges--Selection and appointment--United States.; Louisville (Ky.); Practice of law--Kentucky; United States--Trials, litigation, etc.
Partial Transcript: I'm gonna take us back.
Segment Synopsis: Judge Brown discusses the factors that led him to wanting to become a judge.
Keywords: Aspirations; Brown v. Board of Education; Cases; Court decisions; Diversity; John F. Kennedy; Louisville Bar Association; Minorities; Motivations; Perspectives; Representation; Teachers; Thurgood Marshall
Subjects: African American judges; African American lawyers; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Education.; African Americans--Military service; African Americans--Politics and government.; African Americans--Social conditions.; Judges--Selection and appointment--United States.; Law--Study and teaching; Practice of law--Kentucky; United States--Trials, litigation, etc.
Partial Transcript: That's a perfect segue. In, in doing the research for this project we, uh, found that basically the number of African Americans in the legal profession, particularly in Kentucky, but even across the country really, um, has remained relatively unchanged.
Segment Synopsis: Judge Brown discusses his thoughts on the number of African Americans in the legal field. The interview is concluded.
Keywords: Colleagues; Community involvement; Demographics; Economics; Gender; Job security; Law schools; Legacies; Opportunity; Privilege; Race; Recruitment; Representation; Success rate; Wealth
Subjects: African American college students--Social conditions; African American judges; African American law students; African American lawyers; African Americans--Conduct of life.; African Americans--Economic conditions.; African Americans--Education (Higher); African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Social conditions.; Law--Study and teaching; Practice of law--Kentucky
BINDNER-WOOTEN: Good morning. My name is Erica Bindner-Wooten. It isJanuary 14, 2014. I'm here with former judge and current Secretary of Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet J. Michael Brown. We are in the office of Secretary Brown in Frankfurt, Kentucky and this is an interview for the Legacy of African American Judges in Kentucky. Secretary Brown, thank you for taking the time to meet with us this morning. We greatly appreciate it.
BROWN: No problem.
BINDNER-WOOTEN: We're going to start this interview. And, as I said, we'rejust going to kind of flow through your early life, um, through the present day in as much time as we, uh, have this morning. So if you could tell me a little bit about when and where you were born.
BROWN: I was born in New York City, um, May 21st, 1949, at PresbyterianHospital, which is on the island of Manhattan but I think technically is in the borough of the Bronx. And I grew up in the Bronx, New York. 00:01:00
BINDNER-WOOTEN: Great. Can you describe for me the area or what the Bronx werelike, uh, at the time that you were growing up?
BROWN: Um, my first memory of--of my house was, um, we lived down near YankeeStadium in the Bronx. It was, um, on a place called Sedgwick Avenue. And, uh, I don't remember a whole lot about the house. I can remember that when we did travel we got on, uh, what was called the Major Deegan Expressway. You could look across that river and--at times and see the old polo grounds and what, my memory of that is that's where Willie Mays played for the New York Giants at the time. Um, we then moved to the northeast Bronx to 939 224th Street, which is where I remember most of my life in New York. And at that time, that was 00:02:00somewhat considered, uh, uh, suburban and it was sort of, uh, an escape. For a lot of people it was an escape from Manhattan, an escape from Harlem. [telephone ringing] You want to stop it?
BROWN: So I--you know, I can remember being able at times to--to--as we droveto look across the river and see, um, you know, the polo grounds. And then, of course, as I said, we lived not that far from Yankee Stadium and Yankee Stadium was another place that I can remember, uh, seeing. That was on Sedgwick. Then we moved up to the northeast Bronx and that was sort of-- At the time, it was--it was suburban. It was an attached house, attached housing, uh, two levels. Had a garage. And, um, this was, you know, a big deal for a lot of people who were moving out of the Harlem area into, you know, the Bronx and that 00:03:00was sort of, uh, suburban and that's where I really have all my childhood memories from, growing up in that house. That's where I went to elementary school and then junior high school, high school, my college years, up until the time that I, uh, went into the, uh, Army.
BINDNER-WOOTEN: Can you tell me a little bit about your parents and what theywere like when you were growing up?
BROWN: My mother was a homemaker under today's terminology. I guess back thenshe was--would have been described as a, uh, a housewife. My father, in his, um, civilian activities, was an electrician and at various times--most of his career as an electrician he worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which was a very large military operation, you know, dating back to the, the World War II era. He was also, um, in the New York National Guard and it was at that time an 00:04:00all-black Army National Guard unit that was based out of Harlem, 369th Armory. And I remember all through my formative years going with my father down to, uh, the Armory and watching drills. And, uh, they had an indoor range. He taught me how to shoot at a very young age and, um, there's a picture--the best description I can give you, if you were to go look at that picture that's hanging up on the wall behind me, is, um, that--that's a picture of my father's unit coming back from a deployment in very early 1950s, shortly around the Korean era. And all I remember is my mother took me down and my father was coming back and I was standing in a para-- on the viewing thing with my mother and I ran out and grabbed my father's hand and we marched someplace. 00:05:00
BROWN: I don't recall that, but, um, so he was, uh, he was an electrician. Heworked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Later he--when the Brooklyn Navy Yard shutdown he got a, um, a job at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and then he would commute. And that was toward my years in high school.
BROWN: I remember that. And then he had an industrial accident where a forkliftbacked over him and, uh, injured him severely. And, and the significance of that was I was coming out of high school, looking at going away to college. And after he got injured that pretty much led me to look to stay closer to home to go to college and that's when, uh, my--eventually led to my college choice.
BINDNER-WOOTEN: Hmm. In a moment we'll get to the, uh, to your college years.But a couple of questions before we move on about your early life. Are there 00:06:00any particular values that your parents held, they kind of instilled in you as a young child that you've carried forward in life?
BROWN: Education. Um, neither of my parents, uh, had a college degree. Um, infact, it's somewhat questionable ex-- exactly what sort of formal even high school education, you know, they did. They--I was--my--I was, think I was--my mother was forty-two, I believe, when I was born. I was a, um, surprise, um, to her. My sister had been born in 1942, right, uh, at the very beginning of World War II and then my father had gone off to World War II when the, uh, the National Guard got activated during the war years. Obviously I have no memory of that, I wasn't born yet. But--so she stayed home. I don't know that my 00:07:00mother ever worked or that she ever had a--I know she never had a driver's license. Never drove a car her whole life, which would be highly unusual this--uh, this period. Um, and so my father was always, you know, the breadwinner. But the one thing that they hammered on was education. That they--no matter what they wanted me to get an education. And I--I learned earl--very early that my success in school was directly related to any other fun activities I wanted to have. And so that became my--my--my ticket to do anything, uh, was grades.
BINDNER-WOOTEN: Sure. That sounds like a very strong motivation for doingwell. Uh, one of my next questions was going to be what type of student were you in high school? Uh--
BROWN: Well, uh, I was a very good student in elementary school. Um, I can00:08:00remember one of the toughest--and it was almost--wasn't a decision but it was a sort of path division that happened to me, was I was going to go from elementary school to junior high school. The way the New York City school system was set up, you went to elementary, junior high, and then high. That's how it worked. Well, I was in, um, went to, you know, my local, uh, elementary school, PS21, uh, and then, uh, went to Junior High School 113. It was called Olinville Junior High School. And I can remember early on in--in junior high school they did this, uh, testing of some type and part of the--it was sort of aptitude tests. Always liked to write, always liked to read and always liked music. Well, I took this aptitude test and it came back and said that I could go into a 00:09:00program to take a musical instrument, orchestra. And that was very good. We didn't have any musical instruments at home. Neither of my parents were musically inclined. So I was excited about that. But at the same time the testing also offered me an opportunity to get into some sort of accelerated program which basically meant you skipped a grade. And the downside of skipping a grade was I couldn't participate in some of these other programs like orchestra or something like that. So that was one of the first debates at the house, was which way to go. And my parents, true to their philosophy, were very much interested in the academic side of things. And so I wound up going into that particular program at, at junior high school and in essence combined, um, eighth and ninth grade and, um, didn't--didn't get to take the instrument, which was something that, you know, I'm--I'm toying when I get into my next career 00:10:00after this one, of going back and--and, uh, attempting to, uh, to do an instrument of some kind.
BINDNER-WOOTEN: That's great. It's never too late, that's for sure. Youtalked about college. Did you also go to college in New York, as well?
BROWN: Yeah. Well, next we have to get to the high school.
BINDNER-WOOTEN: Oh, I'm sorry, correct.
BROWN: And high school was another, uh, decision. My local high school wouldhave been, uh, Evander. Um, and it's a long story but Evander is the high school that my wife went--went to. Well, New York City also had a system of special high schools. And the way it worked at that point in time was you--everyone in the city was allowed to take open exam, competitive exams and you took the exam and the top--I don't know exactly how many, I want to say maybe nine hundred students out of New York City public schools, the top nine 00:11:00hundred would--would get to go to, if they chose, the Bronx High School of Science. Now, at the time, you know, everybody argues this sort of thing, but Bronx High School of Science was thought to be, you know, one of the best, if not the best high school in the country. It was an extremely difficult high school. They had a record of--everyone who went to Bronx Science not--didn't just get a high school diploma, they were guaranteed a college scholarship. That's how rigorous the standards were. So it was Bronx Science, then it was Brooklyn Tech was the next one, another, you know, of these advanced schools. Uh, one of them was the--the--the school you see famously in Fame, Youth Performing Art School [The High School of Performing Arts]. Uh, well, at any rate, I took the test because everyone who was in this advanced program took the test. It was just sort of what you did. So I took the test. Um, I never 00:12:00thought anything about it. I was determined I was going to go to either Evander where there were girls or DeWitt Clinton High School, which was an all-boy high school in the Bronx. You know, there was sports. Um, I can remember the day I was sitting in class and the, uh, guidance counselor came in to say that, um, he had the results for Science. And he was so excited because some of the people in--in, um, the class had actually made--made it. And the guidance counselor walked down the aisle and he got to me and he said, uh, "Brown, you passed the test for Science. Please do everybody a favor. Don't go and let a, you know, a de--a deserving student have the spot." And I can remember telling him, "You don't have to worry about it. I have no interest in going to, you know, to 00:13:00Science." Now, you have to understand that the--outside of its aca--uh, academic reputation Science was the--there was almost no African Americans in the school. This is 1963. Um, I had no interest in going to Science. I went home that night. I walked up the stairs into the kitchen and I said--my father happened to be home. I don't remember, you know--I just said, "You'll never guess what. I passed the test for, uh, for Science." I said, and he started crying. And I said, "But I'm not going." And I really don't remember if he hit me with his open hand or he hit me with his fist but it was one of the few times in my life my father ever hit me. And all I can remember was sliding across the kitchen floor and banging my head up against the cabinet. And I looked up and I 00:14:00said, "Well, if you feel that strongly about it--(laughs)--I'll go." So that's how I wound up at Bronx High School of Science. It had an enrollment of 2800 students and there were twenty-eight African Americans. It was ninety-seven percent Jewish, uh, two percent Asian and one percent African American at the time. And for me it was a absolutely miserable experience. It led to, uh, what I'd--in retrospect, the greatest education I could have ever gotten. But from a social s-standpoint it was, you know, just God awful--(throat clearing)--I used to wear, uh, DeWitt Clinton clothes because you had to ride the subways and the trains to get to school. And if you wore anything that said Science you would--it would pretty much assure you were going to get your ass kicked going 00:15:00back and forth to school. So I could wear Clinton paraphernalia and because I was, um--I looked either Puerto Rican or black, no one suspected that I went to Science because no black people went to Science. And that's how I survived the, uh, the high school years. And then when I got to--it came time to go to college, as I said, I had applied for--in Science you finished your New York Regents high school requirements in like your third semester or something like that. And everything after that was just advanced college level courses and things like that. So I had a, a Regents scholarship and a national something scholarship available. And I was really looking to go to Brown University and that's when my father got run over by a forklift. And at that point, that's when, instead of going to Brown, I was admitted to City College of New York, CCNY, which at that time was also one of the most very difficult colleges. In 00:16:00fact, CCNY at that time had a two-point system. And you didn't even get credit for a C. It was very difficult. It was also, um, not a very integrated school. And, in fact, in the years after I left, um, there was a--a great deal of litigation on what was called open enrollment, to open City College and improve the enrollment. At City College I studied political science because my particular goal was either to be a teacher or lawyer. Um, however, world events at that time sort of dictated what was going on. I started CCNY in 1966 and we were just getting into the height of the Vietnam era. And, of course, coming from a military background with my father, you know, ROTC [Reserve Officers' Training Corps] became the thing, one that was going to keep me in school. 00:17:00Because getting that degree was prime. I would have been the first in my family to get a degree. Uh, so I did join ROTC. I did, um, very actively participate in ROTC and went and worked also during my college years. Um, I became the--what's called a cadet colonel at, uh, CCNY. And, um, this was one of the times where I was not the first. I was the second African American cadet colonel in the history of the school. But--, uh, for what it's worth the first was Colin Powell.
BINDNER-WOOTEN: (laughs) Nice.
BROWN: So, um, which, you know, in 1970 didn't mean--you know, didn't--didn'tmean, in retrospect I said, "Well, that wasn't--that wasn't too bad." You know, as you look back at it from that perspective. I was commissioned on September 00:18:001, 1970 as a first lieutenant. Because I was the--what's called a distinguished military graduate, I was the number one in my class, I had an option to take what's called a regular Army appointment and I also had an option, uh, to select what branch and what unit I wanted to go to. My father's unit had, uh, at the 369th he was an artillery officer. So there was a little bit of pressure to try to go artillery. But because of my father's military experience and what he had told me about, particularly from World War II, um, and the prejudice he encountered in some of those stories and the--the--the types of service that he was denied and the types of opportunities that he was denied, I was determined that if I went into the service I wanted to just do the, um--I wanted to be in 00:19:00the, the most elite things I could qualify for. So I took my commission in infantry and my--on my, um, my unit request I requested the 173rd Airborne brigade in Vietnam, um, as a--as a volunteer and what happened was I got sent to, um, Fort Benning, Georgia, the US Army Infantry school. Um, went through infantry officer basic Airborne school, started Ranger school, didn't complete Ranger school because I was a terrible swimmer. That's another story--(throat clearing)-- um, and then, um, by the time I completed all of my, um, basic officer training, President Nixon signed an executive order saying that they would send no more combat troops, new combat troops to Vietnam. So my home unit 00:20:00was, um--my orders were changed from the 173rd Airborne Brigade to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. So that's when I went to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, regular Army officer. Most of the officers at Fort Bragg were West Point graduates because it was, and still is, considered America's guard of honor and one of the top prime assignments in the United States Army and it was very tough at Fort Bragg. But great, great duty. Um, going quickly through the military thing, I'm at Fort Bragg. I had, you know, won a couple of things as, uh, we had been deployed once overseas to the Middle East. This was before CNN. So--(laughs)-- we went and jumped and did some stuff and came back but it was not, um, historically recorded and it can just stay like that for 00:21:00now. Um, came back from--from that particular deployment and I got a call one day. Um, that was the executive office of, uh, infantry company and they said, "Do you remember taking a test?" That seems to be a theme, right. "Do you remember taking a test when you came in, an aptitude test to go to flight school?" And I said, "Uh, I don't remember." And they said, "Well, how would you like to go?" And I said, "Sure." Um, I had had a--almost got killed on a jump at Bragg with somebody that floated onto me and collapsed my shoot. It was in the wintertime. It was freezing. I remember being med-evaced from the drop zone and the helicopter was warm. So when the guy said, "Go to flight school," I said, "Sure, that sounds good." And it in with I wanted to do anything, anything daring. So I left Fort Bragg and went to, um, the US Army heli-- primary helicopter school at Fort Wolters, Texas. This is like 1970, late '71, early '72. I'd have to go back and look at the date. Um, we had civilian 00:22:00flight instructors in Mineral Wells, Texas. Mineral Wells, Texas, if you haven't been there, is nowhere. There is literally nothing around it. And that's a good place for flight school because you could crash and not kill anybody. But I got out there--and once again, we were in a situation with very, very few minorities in Army aviation at the time. There were very few officers in Army aviation at the time. This was before the Army established what they now have, which is an aviation branch. Uh, so it was very selective to go to flight school and then once you got there it was a minority. And I can--I did very well in ground school, near the top of the class in ground school. Again, the academic stuff. I can remember I went out and got into this--uh, the helicopter the first day with the flight instructor and we put on the headsets, the helmet and everything, and get all started up. And the guy did the intercom check and the first thing he told me, he says, "I just want to remind the 00:23:00lieutenant that niggers and monkeys can't fly." So flight school became an experiment (??) and, in fact, they tried to wash me out, said that I failed the flight aptitude. And I went before a board and was readmitted to the next class and later on, uh, successfully completed my primary training at Fort Wolters. Then--I mean--yeah, Fort Wolters. Then I went to Fort Rucker, Alabama, where you transitioned into, um--well, at that time you would transition into the--the helicopters that you saw in all the Vietnam era stuff, the UH [Bell UH-1 Iroquois] models and everything else like that. And from then, lots of other stuff. I went to, uh, um--after flight school went to Korea to an aviation unit, uh, near Seoul and I was an aviation platoon commander and stayed in Korea. And I was in Korea when my father died. And, you know, that I remember 00:24:00because I had been back to visit him. He had cancer. Smoked. Everybody from World War II smoked, you know, Camels and Pall Malls and that kind of thing. I had come back to visit him. He had been very ill. I went back to Korea. Uh, I was preparing for a mission to the Panmunjom at the Demilitarized Zone. And the way it worked over there, you had to give the name of the crew and who was going forty-eight hours in advance if--when you flew up to the Demilitarized Zone, and the North Koreans would check all that stuff. And, you know, there, there was never any good relationships going on between US and North Korea, even at that time. This was in '74. Um, so I got a call one night. My mother called me, I was in my--my BOQ [Bachelor Officer Quarters] and she said, "Your father died." And I said, "Well, you know, I just got home. I don't know I can come home again. Um, and I got a mission tomorrow." And that was that conversation. I 00:25:00remember very little of it. Did get up the next day, flew the mission up to Panmunjom. You know, I flew up. My, um, copilot flew back. I landed at my base, at K16. My commanding officer was standing on the tarmac and as soon as we shut the helicopter down he went crazy on me. I couldn't understand what the hell was going on. He said, you know, "Why didn't you tell us your father died? We got a call from the Department of the Army." I said, "What the hell am I going to do?" you know. "Have people get shot because I can't make the mission?" That--that's inconsistent with what he did and how I was raised. He said, "I have an order here from General Stillwell. You're gone. Get a few things together. You're on an aircraft for the United States tomorrow." That was it. I mean, literally, I left Korea in one night to return home. I flew 00:26:00all the way back. And, trust me; it is a long ride from Korea to New York. Got home. I had to go scrounge--scrounge up a dress blue uniform. I went down to 369th Armory. We had service there. The next day we drove my father--drove my father to Arlington National Cemetery. Got to Arlington National Cemetery. Um, and this is another one I'll never forget. If you've ever seen pictures of the ceremonies at Arlington, the Army guys at that time--and--and it was one of the few times you wore a blue uniform. The--it was called a dress blue uniform, like with the Kennedy stuff and everything, you know. That was called--they--they were called the old guard. They're the ones who do the, um, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and stuff like that. It's an infantry outfit and 00:27:00they wear the infantry ----------(??) and the blue uniform. I arrived at National--at Arlington National Cemetery. I told everybody to stay in the car, let me go in and check. I'm in a dress blue infantry uniform because I am a infantry officer. So I button up my thing, I walk into the Lee Mansion, the Lee Chapel Mansion right there. There's a lieutenant colonel, because he had to be a lieutenant colonel because to bury anyone you have to be of equal or greater rank. My father was a lieutenant colonel. It was a white lieutenant colonel. I walked in the door and I said, "Excuse me, Sir. I'm here for the Brown, uh, service." This guy goes, "Captain, where the hell have you been? Don't you know what time it is," blah, blah, blah. I'm like, "What?" You know, I mean, I hadn't slept since I left Korea basically. This guy's screaming at me. And 00:28:00I--it finally struck me. He didn't think I was there for the funeral. He thought I was part of the unit that was going to do the firing squad and all that. So I remember grabbing him by his tie and I pulled his face down to my nametag and I just said, "Read the name tag." And then he backed off. I do not remember anything about my father's funeral after that. Not--not anything.
BROWN: And I took my--my son back to visit the grave later on but I don'tremember--I don't remember the flag, I don't remember the firing squad. I don't remember--I have no memory of the actual funeral service itself.
BROWN: So now I'm back and I go back to, you know, various other assignments inthe Army. Wound up at Fort Campbell, at the, uh, 101st. Then I'm at Fort Campbell and the Army--this is late--now this is 1976 going 1977. Vietnam era 00:29:00is--is winding down. The Army is starting to, uh, contract. I got--we were informed that, uh, they had just in-- increased the time from captain to major. Uh, I had decided, "Well, this would be a good time." So what I did was I petitioned the Army to take what was called extended leave, uh, go to law school, and under the contract I would come back on active duty as a JAG [Judge Advocate General's Corps] officer instead of as, you know, all the--you know, the flashy stuff. And my theory was, "Well, that makes a lot of sense." You know, the war's winding down now. I'll come back as a lawyer. If something happens I can be refreshed, you know, if--it, it, it--be put back in a combat unit if they needed me. This made just perfect damn sense. So I--I fill out the application. I remember having to go in to see the--the commanding general of the division and he said, "What is this?" I said, "Well, I want to go to law school. You know, I mean, that's what I started out to do before all this stuff 00:30:00had happened." He said, "No, you're too valuable. Um, you know, you're--you got all this training. There's not many, uh, you know, African Americans with all of this kind of stuff and you're a pilot and, you know, you'll be a general someday." And I said, "Well, you know, I'm not--I really want to go to law school. That's what I started out to do." I had been through, you know, a divorce. Um, the types of units I were in were very taxing and a lot of time away from home at Fort Bragg. They wouldn't even tell you. You know, you'd go show up at airbase, you know, in an airplane to some distant place and they have a duty officer call your wife and say, "They're gone. We can't tell you where they went, can't tell you when they're coming back." This is--it's horrible, you know. Thank God for the guys who continue to do it. So I went to, um-- At the same time I applied to take the LSAT and I can remember going to Vanderbilt 00:31:00to take the LSAT [Law School Admissions Test]. I walked in the room and I looked in that room and these looked like the brightest, cleanest, squeakiest, youngest people I'd ever seen. And I said to myself, "Damn, I've been, you know, away from this stuff for seven years." And I almost walked out the room. But I said, "Well, I came this far." So I took the LSAT, um, and then I, you know, started getting letters of, uh--offering me scholarships or being admitted to law schools. And the one thing I did not want to do was go back to the megalopolis, as I called it, the East Coast. I had been, uh, all ov--you know, all over the United States and saw that people lived well. The Bronx in New York was not good living once you see the rest of the world. Uh, I was in Kentucky, the University of Louisville had--had, you know, you know, offered me 00:32:00um, a scholarship. I'd been to Louisville a, a few times from Fort Campbell. So, uh, that's when I decided--I resigned my commission on August 31, 1977, with exactly seven years of service, and I drove up and started U of L law school in 1977. Um, there were four African Americans in my class. There were, uh, two who eventually graduated from that class. Myself and, um, historically, Janice Martin, who became the first female African American judge in Kentucky's history. Um, Paul Bather, who, uh, uh, didn't finish law school but went on to 00:33:00become an alderman, a longtime serving alderman in, uh, Louisville, and a guy named Larry Cooper who had since moved to, um, Birmingham, Alabama, and eventually finished law school someplace in Alabama, and he's an attorney now, at least, uh, he was last time I checked into Birmingham. But there were four of us who started, two of us who finished. Um, I did law school in two-and-a-half years. Graduated--so I'm--I'm--it's kind of schizophrenic as to what class I belong to. Almost everyone I started with graduated in May of 1980. Um, I went to the graduation because that was the next time you could actually go to the graduation but by the time I went to the graduation I had actually already passed the bar. Uh, nineteen--uh, I took the bar in February of, uh, 1980 and the results came out in--I don't remember what date exactly but 00:34:00I think May fifth or something like that is my bar admission date. And so when I actually went to my commencement ceremony I had already been admitted to the bar back then. So--
BINDNER-WOOTEN: You mentioned that there were only four African Americans inyour law school class. Can you kind of describe the environment, uh, what, what was the environment like in law school?
BROWN: Well, I did not find any en--environment that was, you know, at--at alloppressive or discriminatory. My thing was it just surprised me that the numbers were so few. It would seem like by that time, you know, the school would have made a lot more progress. And I remember being kind of angry about that, which led me to actually one of the thi--one of the things that led me to, um, become very active in bar activities because it struck me that the profession should have been a lot further along. I became an adjunct professor 00:35:00at U of L, um, you know, for a few years after my graduation and I taught constitutional law and criminal procedure and--and stayed active. I got on the board of overseers at U of L, uh, stayed very--got into bar activities. I, I became the first African American president of the Louisville Bar Association. Um, you, you know, just basically believing that it--you can promote change from within. I worked very closely and still--for many years with, uh, Dean Linda Ewald recruiting, um, for the law school and then later on I did a lot of stuff as far as recruiting for law firms and things like that. Um--but, uh, the only part of the U of L experience that I have been critical of is not so much that 00:36:00they, um, they have bias toward any African Americans. They seem to have a--kind of an attitude at that time of second-class citizenship. You know, um, that, you know, we were there but, you know, somehow we were only there because we weren't really good enough. And then later on, as I started in practice, uh, the reality was, if you looked around, all the, the people on the Supreme Court of Kentucky, the people who were the judges in the courthouse, you know, many of the partners in the quote "big firms", that's a whole other story we can get in to in a minute. Uh, you know, all went to U of L or UK [University of Kentucky]. Went to law school, always talking about, you know, these--these other aspirations, you know, the Ivy League and all that sort of stuff. And that--and that's great. There's no knock on them. But that doesn't mean there 00:37:00was something wrong with us. So there was--I--I felt for a period of time very poor relationship between the law school and its alumni, you know, based on that sort of attitudinal position. Not so much just the, um, the [clears throat] diversity issue, you know, at the time. I do know they had very strict rules. I almost got--I--I actually got asked to leave the law review because I was working and at that time they said you can't work and, uh, and do law review. And I'm sitting there looking at this dean, I won't mention, and I'm saying, "I just got through seven years of experiences that I think are at least as challenging as anything you've got right here." So, you know, you--and he just 00:38:00told me, "Well, you either do that or you can't, you know, you either quit your--your--your clerking job or you--you quit the, uh, the law review." So I told him, uh, where he could put the law review.
BROWN: And ironically the--one of the people I worked with in my brief timeduring that was Lisa Abramson, who was Lisa Hughes back then. Because she was in my class and we'd worked on some reviews or something like that very early on in the, in the law school career. But anyway, I'd--I graduated in, so they were very happy to get rid of me. That's why I was able to get out in two-and-a-half years. And then I took the--the bar and I believe now that the, you know, laches applies and if I didn't pass it's too late. I don't even know if they've got the results into place. But I do remember, um, I was at the, uh, Jefferson 00:39:00County Courthouse and one of my classmates was Jackie Shoring (??), whose father had been a judge. She was working for the county attorney's office and somehow she had the inside scoop. And I was going up the escalator, um, one day and she said, uh, "Hey, the bar results are out." And I went back into the county attorney's office where she was and she had somebody read off a list from up here. And, um, my name was on the list. So that's it. That was--closed the deal. It's too late now.
BINDNER-WOOTEN: And what type of legal work did you get into out of law school?
BROWN: Well, I had--my first experience pre--while I was clerking, I wasclerking for a guy named James Crumlin, who was a real pioneer in Louisville as far as African American lawyers go. And when I first came out of law school, 00:40:00though, I went to work with, um, what was then Gittleman, Charney and Barber, which was Oliver Barber. And I still see Ollie now. Mitchell Charney and David Gittleman, who had been a long-time, uh, lawyer, particularly for the transit authority. And we did a whole bunch of everything. Um, uh, I did criminal work, I did some civil work. Uh, mo--you know, a lot of criminal work, district court stuff. I had, uh, circuit court, um, uh, trials, you know, that I can remember, murder trials. You know, you did--you learned by experience during that--you know, that timeframe. So I was with them and then in '84--uh, late 00:41:00'83 I remember, you know, Darryl Owens and a number of people who I knew from the courthouse, you know, was--you know, particularly McAnulty, um, you know, who was on the bench then. And, um, Judge Shobe was on the bench, you know, at that--at that time. And Judge Anderson, Charlie Anderson, and that gets into some real irony in a minute, but I knew Darryl Owens, uh, Aubrey Williams and a--and a number of folks back then. And they, um, they encouraged me to apply for a vacancy and that--that process was in late '83. And then Governor Collins appointed me to the district court bench in January of '84. And that's about exactly thirty years ago. So I was on the district court bench from then until 00:42:00November because I lost the election to, ironically, Charlie Anderson, who was politically astute, I mean, to a great degree. He had had some difficulties in circuit court; saw an opportunity to run against a novice. He just happened to pick me. And, you know, part of his campaign, because I was unknown in Louisville, was to vote for the black guy--(laughs)--
BINDNER-WOOTEN: --(laughs)--can you--
BROWN: So I lost that, uh, I lost that election. That was the end of my, uh,judicial career, which is why it's kind of ironic being even interviewed because it was eleven months basically.
BINDNER-WOOTEN: During those eleven months are there any memorable cases thatyou presided over?
BROWN: Well, um, I can't remember the name. I remember I--I did actually holdone lawyer in contempt. Uh, uh, I was pretty, uh, you know, excited and 00:43:00dedicated so I would volunteer to take a lot of dockets when--you know, when people didn't--so I did traffic, I did night court, I did a stint in juvenile court. We rotated every three or four months at that time in--in Jefferson, uh, district court. But, you know, the district docket in Jefferson County, it's massive and, uh, you would come in and, you know, they'd have the big printouts and you'd just kind of just start rolling and roll with the county attorneys. And then, of course, because of the election system, then, uh, I would do that all day and then turn around and try to be all these different places and campaign, all the--the Democratic clubs and VFWs [Veterans of Foreign Wars] and things like that. It was a--it was an interesting awkward sort of experience.
BINDNER-WOOTEN: Sure. One of the themes that we've, uh, seen in doing theseinterviews is that there isn't a lot of preparation for campaigning and we've 00:44:00kind of heard people talk about pairing up with a mentor. How did you kind of even learn how to campaign for?
BROWN: Well, apparently I didn't.
BROWN: I mean, that's the--that's the--that's the first answer. Certainly notcompared to Charlie Anderson. Um, I had a--a guy who was helping me. His name was Gary Levy. He had sort of helped a lot of people around Jefferson County in--in campaign things and we--you know, it was mostly a list of events. It was, uh, being prepared to go to the Courier Journal at that time, um, you know, the Courier Journal editorial carried a lot of weight, you know, we thought. You know, back in that day, as far as, uh, how people voted for--for judges in Jefferson County. Because I had no family ties in Louisville, um, so I had no history. Like a lot of people had extensive families. I can remember when I--when I got to Louisville the first question people asked me, you know, I came 00:45:00up here to go to law school. I mean, the very first thing. You know, they--they would--it would either be, "Where did you go to high school?" or "Are you kin to so and so Brown?" And, you know, well, you know, I--I didn't have answers, sufficient answers for either one of those. And even the--you know, so the African American society in Louisville, uh, you know, was rigid in the sense that they, for that world, you know, people had come up from a number of places, particularly the high school experience and the high school experience dating back to true segregation. Which, remember, I didn't really experience that. I--I grew up in New York City. And I can tell you, in the Bronx, you know, we would see the things on--on TV but no one on my block, you know, ever had a thought of--of, you know, some, some guys in white sheets walking down the 00:46:00middle of our street--(laughs)--you know, that was like--it was foreign. You know, and you had a northern view of the civil rights movement, which was different in a lot of aspects from the southern view because of the experiences the people had gone through. So when they asked high school, that--that meant--it was a lot deeper than just where did you go to high school. It was sort of an experiential thing and do you know these people or not. And I didn't. So my campaigning was different from what those who had had a long-term experience in--in Louisville and the, the West End and Central High School or, uh, Old Male when it wasn't, you know, Traditional. And during the--the--you know, the bussing controversies and the consent decree and everything like that. And, of course, the church experiences. You know, I mean, I--I guess, uh, they had very well established church communities and this is where these folks had 00:47:00networks built up, um, like--like Charlie Anderson that, you know, I had no--no ability to compete against. Um, so the campaigning at that time, um, for me, it wasn't so much fundraising because back then the campaigns weren't nearly as obscenely expensive as they are today. There was no real television, you know, ads. It was emery boards, it was pens, it was handouts, and it was showing up at political events and word-of-mouth. So that's how the campaign went, uh, for me back, you know, in '84. Now, um, I've since talked to a lot of other people and it's--and it's changed, you know, dramatically. Even in Jefferson County, 00:48:00the judicial campaigning. But there's still some of the same vestiges. Lot of name game stuff. Um, lot of legacy, uh, things with, you know, the name games. But it--it--that's changed. Now, you know, for instance, you know, Governor Beshear a few years ago, you know, stepped out and made four appointments, that was historic, at the same time in Jefferson County. And, um, three of those four were successful during that--that election. Now, we--we still--uh, we have Denise Clayton on the, uh, the court of appeals. And, of course, you know, like I say, ironically, Lisa, going all the way back to the law school class, is on 00:49:00the Supreme Court in Jefferson County. So we do have a, a--you know, a representation on the court of appeals. And, of course, we have, uh, Judge Edwards and Judge Stevens. Uh, you know, and I can--I can remember Olu giving--citing to me historically when he became president of the Louisville Bar Association. I think he was the second African American to do so. There's a link. But the campaigning now was much different then. I would not do it for anything.
BROWN: I would not. People have approached me. I would not run for anythingever. And now I'm in a position at, you know, at my, um--the stage in my career where, uh, you know, I just--I'll find something else to do if--if that was an option.
BINDNER-WOOTEN: Sure. I'm going to take us back. Uh, I realized that I--uh,we've kind of touched at different points of--that you don't--kind of always 00:50:00thought that you wanted to go to law school. But can you tell me kind of when that first popped into your head and what was the driving force behind wanting to be a lawyer?
BROWN: Well, I think the, you know, you--you saw TV shows but growing up in myera, and per-- certainly from my parents era, the--basically educated--if you got to be the education, you were either a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher. The--you know, the--the sciences, per se, the engineering thing was very rare. And that was kind of what you aspired to. Um, you know, I was very much influenced by, um, John Kennedy in, you know, 1960. I was, you know, eleven, twelve years old. And I can remember the--you know, the Kennedy inauguration and all that sort of thing. Uh, and--and he was a--a lawyer. Lawyers talked. Um, it just, it was either that or a teacher. And a--and a teacher because 00:51:00that's how you helped other people, you know, get ahead. Not so much a doctor, although a lot of my high school classmates at Science, that's what they were going for. You know, that--they were headed from there to premiere medical schools. And I did well enough in science. I just did not--I don't know. The--I had enough acumen but I don't think I had enough interest. So the law thing was pretty much it, you know. Uh, Brown v. Board of Education came out when I was five years old but that--everyone, you know--that was just the beginning. Uh, 1954 didn't flip society. So you had to go through another whole series of court decisions and Thurgood Marshall and a number of things that were going on in the legal world well past 1954 and then, in fact, as you 00:52:00got into the sixties and the real, um--you know, when the civil rights movement was rea--you know, was picking up, that also carried, um, a, a lot of issues around the law and how the law was being applied and that seemed to be where society was going to change. Now, the--the parallel development at that time was the war. And that was all encompassing. And then with the war was the draft, something we don't have now, which was a big factor in 1966. You know, who was going to be 1A or who was going to get the exemption because you went to college or, or, you know, dodging the draft or--there--there was a big debate. And I was in--in between a couple of different worlds even when I was in college because I'm in ROTC when other people are, you know, protesting everything, you know, at the same time. It was a weird time, uh, you know, in my life at that 00:53:00point. Very different. So it's--when you get--you just have to look back perspectively. But the law always seemed to come to the top. So I did the military thing and I--you know, I think I--and, you know, after my father passed I sort of sat back and--and I said, "Well, I've sort of honored him already," um, if that was a motivation for, you know, the military thing. Um, and now that's when I wanted to go back to law school. Well, let me go back and now maybe I can mix these two. Stay in the Army but be a JAG officer because that way, you know, no one could accuse you of, you know, kind of being a wimp or anything because I'd already done all this other stuff. Had all the little been there badges, they called them, and that sort of thing. So, uh, it was always in the back of my mind. Kennedy was a--was an inspiration. Um, you know, 00:54:00Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court. But everything seemed to center around, you know, the law--(throat clearing)--and I can remember, you know, debates in school and, um, and we were in New York so there was a lot of discussion about civil rights from a different perspective. Um, you know, what's right, what's the law of the country say and, you know, we didn't--there was enough, uh, there was de facto segregation certainly in New York but obviously not de jure. There was a famous congressman named Adam Clayton Powell, um, who was very visible in--in New York City, you know, for years and years and years, you know, at that point in time. And, you--you--you know, he was in Congress. Um, you know, he was a leader, he was flamboyant, um, so the law was always kind of in the back of my mind.
BINDNER-WOOTEN: Excuse me. Thank you. I want to ask you one other question,00:55:00um, in regards to something that we've talked about. You talked about being the first African American president of the Louisville Bar Association and, I believe, also the first African American in your current position. What does that mean to you?
BROWN: Well, um, I'm not sure if I'm the first position in this or not becausewe got a--I'm not sure what the position that Ish Berks (??) held over here. Um, you know, I--I never--I'm sitting here looking at this piece of crystal and it's the Louisville Bar Association Trailblazer Award. And, and I don't know that I considered myself so much of a trailblazer. I think, um, obviously I was very fortunate because of my education to put me in certain positions, at least to compete, at least to demonstrate. Um, so as much as I hated Science, I appreciated it or all the struggles that--you know, how--how difficult City 00:56:00College was but I appreciated it. Um, I--I guess the thing that is sometimes--is not so much being the first, it's at times there's--there was so much distance between the first and the second and the third and the fourth. And when I look back at it it's not that. That, that just happened to be, uh, circumstantial. It's what happened after that. And that's the same experience into a large degree in law firms, um, you know, even in--in government up here. I don't know if--if--if I was the first. I mean, because of the governor's reelection and, and her good graces, I may wind up being the longest, um, secretary, but I'm still the only secretary in Frankfort right now, you know, in 00:57:00the cabinet. Um, and that's--that's just--that's the kind of circumstances with Kentucky. Took me a long time to--to get the statewide perspective and realize what a minority, uh, African Americans are in the state. People have a--you have a displaced perspective from just the Jefferson County experience where it, you know, it seems like, um, there are more of us than there really are. I don't know what the bar statistics are. The bar association used to tell us that they didn't keep those statistics. Um, but, you know, it would be interesting just to find out what it was.
BROWN: So I don't know. I can remember, uh, you know, as others gotappointments, and I can remember some of the--the first ones. Janice Martin obviously. Pam Goodwine. You know, she was a Wyatt (??) when we were helping her to get that--that initial step and I think maybe Gary Payne had gone a 00:58:00little bit, um, before Pam did. It's amazing how much time has passed since, you know, she got that appointment. Then Denise. I can remember when Denise Clayton was at the Legal Aid Society looking to get on the bench in Jefferson County. Um--(coughs)--and obviously has had a--you know, a long career. Uh, but I think the--the--the thing is not the--the--being the first or the only. I kind of got used to being, um, a minority--minority going all the way back to junior high school and then, of course, high school, college, ----------(??), the things I did in the service, then law school. So that part--that is not, you know, I don't dwell on that as much as I dwell on it's still sort of amazing. Where's the next generation of people? 00:59:00
BINDNER-WOOTEN: That's a perfect segue. In doing the research for this projectwe, uh, found that basically the number of African Americans in the legal profession, particularly in Kentucky, but even across the country really, um, has remained relatively unchanged. Um, and I'm just wondering, one, your thoughts on why you think that is and, two, how can we change that?
BROWN: Well, um, why it is, is interesting. One, there's another phenomenonthat is--that happened even within that, which is the absence of males, uh, in--in my experience. I can't give you any current statistics. I've been away from it for a while. But when I was helping--even helping Dean Ewald and doing a lot of recruiting both for law firms and for U of L. Um, you've seen--and I think this is true nationwide, that the, uh, population of law schools have--has shifted to op-- I don't know if it's--it's an absolute female majority but I 01:00:00think it's--it's close if it's not there. And that, um, males, African American males are not attending law schools in--in numbers that they did before. And we're outnumbered by African American females. So you had people who were now--and I don't know what professions the males are going to. Law school and this profession, and, and med school, too, but--it's not an instant gratification situation. So unlike some other fields, finishing law school doesn't guarantee you anything economically. And it--and we've seen situations where it doesn't guarantee you a job. Um, there's still very few legacy people 01:01:00where they could just go into practice with, uh, their family, for instance, or they had established, you know, law firms that their family was in. So there wasn't--(throat clearing)--there was a long light even at the end of the tunnel. So you had this difficult experience. You had college. You had the three years of law school. You had to take this bar exam. But then what? And I think the then what started to--people who really looked at it looked in other directions. Now, whether they looked technically or engineering or what have you but it was a--it was a drop-off from that--that talent pool. I think the number of people with the, you know, educational ability to complete law school has probably gone up. I think that they've looked in other places because they could see, you know, not a lack of success but there wasn't an, a automatic 01:02:00guarantee of success. I think there's a higher perception of guaranteed success in the medical profession or dentistry or something than there is in law. And that may be, um, that may be part of it. It's, and, it, you know, for as successful as--you--the successful examples you can point to, whether it's, uh, attorney general level, whether it's the President of the United States, um, it still hasn't seemed to en--you know, inspire, you know, a whole lot of people to get into law and I think that may be it. Now, those who might be politically interested still can go in that direction but I just don't think there's that assurance of, um, economic reward that exists now in law that it may have at 01:03:00a--in the past. At least the perception of it. You'd have to ask someone a lot closer, maybe thirty years closer to the, uh--you know, to now to get--to get that sort of perspective.
BINDNER-WOOTEN: Sure. Well, I just have two fin--two final questions for you.One is if you were speaking to a younger version of yourself, what would you tell them?
BROWN: Um, I would, you know, I think I would tell him to be a little moreserious. I like to have fun. And I--I think that, uh, I probably would bear down a little more and think a little deeper about the consequences of some--you know, some actions and things like that, you know, to do it. Um, the second thing I would--you know, I would tell them, depending on what they--what they wanted career-wise, is, uh, you--you can never stop learning and you can never stop being involved. I still believe involvement is the key in anything, whether it's your university, whether it's your community, whether it's--it's not just about you. You have to be involved. Um, you can't make yourself a success per se but what you can do is you--is you do well and are involved, particularly in--in the state or the communities we operate in, you don't have to beat your own drum. It's going to get noticed. And I'm surprised even today. I'll go around and run into people. I ran into somebody in Kroger the other night and they said, "You don't remember me." And I'll go, you know, "I'm sorry." And, um, you know, I am. Have an AAA--an AARP card and I'm getting 01:04:00letters from Medicare and stuff like that. Um, and--but then she'd say, "You gave me my first job. You hired me when you were first assistant Commonwealth attorney and, you know, I've always appreciated that and I just saw you and wanted to ----------(??)." And that--that's a very rewarding kind of thing, you know. I'll run into people I taught in law school. I ran in--you know, one of them was on the Court of Appeals; one of them's a county attorney someplace. And they say, "Yeah, I remember when I took your class," and whatnot. That was-- That part is--is gratifying. So you always--you don't know who you're going to cross paths with. So, um, you know, keep--keep that going. And if you do well and if you work hard, and--you know, it--it'll be noticed. You'll get where you want to be.
BINDNER-WOOTEN: Secretary Brown, is there anything that we haven't talked aboutin this interview that you'd like to discuss?
BROWN: Well, you haven't really talked about interaction with the other African01:05:00American judges that I encountered and I think it would be remiss if I didn't, you know, relate a little bit about that because I did cross paths with a number early on and then, uh, even--even today. And the first ones early on, you mentioned Judge Shobe. Uh, you know, Judge Shobe was an institution in--in Jefferson Circuit Court and the Louisville Bar Association has a, an award they give out, which is the Civility Award, because of the way Judge Shobe handled his docket and handled himself and was an inspiration to, uh, a lot of people in Jefferson County. Um, I had--I was the best man at one of Ernie Jasmin's weddings. And Ernie was a noted prosecutor and then Commonwealth attorney and then circuit judge for quite a while. You know, the most unfortunate thing 01:06:00with--with--with Judge Jasmin, with Ernie, is the same thing with McAnulty. We couldn't get either one of them to quit smoking. Um, and let's--let's go to Bill McAnulty. Well, I played golf with him, I interacted with him, you know, in the courthouse and, uh, you know, McAnulty was a great--he did a great impersonation of Richard Pryor at the same time that he was pushing forward a lot of things and dealing in the community and dealing in the legal profession and, you know, and striving to, uh, to get heights and became an inspiration to a lot of--a lot of people. Then, you know, Janice, um, Martin, who was my classmate, who then came along and spent, you know, a whole career on--on the district court bench. These are folks that I knew well. Certainly Mack 01:07:00and--and, you know, and Janice. Uh, and we were all trying to do something to make headway in the legal profession and--you know, and pri--primarily in Louisville and Jefferson County and then some other peripheral things as we--as we went along. And now we have sort of a new generation with, um, Janice, you know, retiring and Mack and Ernie being gone. You have this young group of Olu and, uh, and Judge Edwards, uh, and we--and now we have representation on the district court and--and I don't know exactly how many there are statewide now.
BROWN: OK. Um, which is--you know, which is great. And hopefully they'll havelonger careers and we'll see more moving up to, you know, the court of, of 01:08:00appeals and the Supreme Court. The supreme court is very difficult because, you know, you only have one per--there's only seven statewide and so the--the likelihood demographically--they're--they're going to have to come out of one or two of the, uh, supreme court districts to get elected since, you know, all of our judges are elected. I don't see Kentucky making it to a Missouri system or anything like that, um, anytime ever. So you have Denise on the court of appeals. Um, but those folks, you know, did great service to the profession, to the bench, and heavily involved in--in--in law schools and communities. So that, you know, we've had a--even though the numbers weren't great I think the legacy left by those numbers is pretty strong, you know, in that situation.
BINDNER-WOOTEN: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, I think that concludes the01:09:00interview. Thank you so much for taking the time to meet with us today. We greatly appreciate it.
[End of interview.]