African American Studies
Interviewee: Dr. Donald Brown
Interviewer: Dr. Brian Purnell
Summarized by: Estevan Román
Dr. Donald Brown was born on February 4th, 1948 at Morissania Hospital in the Bronx. His mother Lula Moore is from Athens, Georgia or actually a town just outside Athens named Whitehall. His father was named Robert Brown is from Charleston, South Carolina. His parents were thirteen years apart in age. He mentions that his mother was previously married with three other kids and he would meet them a few years later at his mother’s funeral. His father did not like Charleston because of the racism he was facing and to possibly the fact he was the youngest of his siblings and disliked the discipline, eventually left Charleston and found his way to New York City getting a job working at the shipyards. Dr. Brown states that he doesn’t recall his father ever living in the Bronx, his dad lived in Manhattan and visited the Bronx while his mother raised him in the Bronx. His parents were not married; his father was married to another woman.
Dr. Brown says that his first place he remembers his place of residence was 1345 Brook Avenue, in the Crotona Park Apartments. Mother passed when he was six. He lived with several different relatives. His dad’s nephew first, then the grandmother in Philadelphia, then with some woman who his dad established a relationship with in Philadelphia, and then she went to Baltimore herself, taking the little sister with her but was committed to returning to take care of Dr. Brown and his brother, and then the godmother’s house.
Dr. Brown’s father was diagnosed and dying of cancer, his brother went to live with his dad and stepmom. Dr. Brown at the age of 12 moved in with a distant cousin on his mother’s side, Reverend Author William Clayton and his wife Emily at the Patterson projects at East 143rd street and 3rd avenue. Dr. Brown talks about his brother committing a robbery and going to Sparks Detention Center. He noticed the attention his brother got from that so he decided to rob a bike. He was placed on probation and met Mr. Hall and he was a positive role model with positive reinforcement.
Dr. Brown finished PS 53, started attending Paul Lawrence Dunbar Junior High School, then A.S. Roberts JHS then went on the Elijah D. Clark JHS. He recalls PS 53 being predominantly Jewish while Brook Avenue was mostly black, and not having many material items, clothes in particular. He recalls the interaction with the Jewish kids being positive. He recalled playing “Johnny on the Pony” and “What was the point of Ringalevio?” He would go to the Jewish kids’ houses further up but they would never come down to the Brook Avenue. He mentions that getting wax removed his ears he was able to make a difference in his education, as he struggled a bit before that.
Dr. Brown talks about his time with Reverend and Mrs. Clayton, who were in their 60’s when they took care of him, and had no children with them at the time, but the ensured him he can stay as long as he wanted. Reverend was a janitor at Lexox Hill hospital and Mrs. Clayton was a homemaker. They became his parents.
Dr. Brown goes on to talk about his community at Paterson project and all the people whom he grew up and then mentions being part of Camp Minisink’s Army Cadet Corps, mostly because urban kids could not join the Boy Scouts, the Corps instilled positive values in its members. He used his experience at the Camp to launch an initiative named Christian Soldiers in Boston, modeled after the Cadet Corps. He talks about how some of the young men he grew up with being drawn into the negative elements such as drugs, crime and violence that were present in the neighborhood.
Dr. Brown graduated from De Whitt Clinton High School in 1965 which at the time was a mostly white school. After graduating from there, he went on to attend Springfield College with a 10,000 scholarship. Although he did not do well at first, he wound up being president of Afro-Am, which was a progressive thinking group at the College and working as the assistant director at a program called Upward Bound
Brown, Donald. August 11, 2005. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham University.
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