Brown Middle School's Namesake Advocated Education for "All White Children"
Four-time Georgia Governor, U.S. Senator had rags-to-riches story but also was voice for segregation.
In a 1922 memo entitled "Reasons Given For Naming New Schools of Atlanta," former President of the Atlanta Board of Education W.W. Gaines wrote:
"Joseph Emerson Brown—for whom the northwest junior high school was named—was Georgia's great war governor and, at the same time, a citizen of Atlanta. He was the first president of the Atlanta Board of Education, a position he held for about 17 years, and even while he was United States Senator, he retained his place on the board, and would come from Washington to Atlanta to attend board meetings and commencements. He certainly deserves a high place in the history of Atlanta's public schools."
Brown's list of accomplishments is extensive. Born April 15, 1821, Brown was from a poor family, but still served as a politician, a realm largely reserved for the elite. He was a Georgia circuit judge and state senator. He was Governor of Georgia from 1857-65 and, in fact, the only person elected governor four times. He was Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, a United States Senator, and the first president of the Atlanta School Board, on which he served from 1869 to 1888. He was also a trustee of the University of Georgia from 1857-1889.
Born in 1821 in South Carolina, Brown moved to the upper mountainous region of Georgia as a child, an area with little opportunity for education. Thus, in 1840 at 19 years old he traveled 125 miles back to South Carolina with a yoke and oxen, which he traded for room and board. He then attended the Calhoun Academy in South Carolina on credit.
Brown returned to Georgia in 1844 and became the headmaster of an academy in Canton. He also attended Yale Law School and received a bachelor of law degree in 1846 after already having passed the bar exam.
In 1847, he opened a prosperous law practice in Canton. Also a successful businessman, Brown gained wealth from railroad ventures and a coal and iron mining establishment. At his death in in 1894, one estimate of his worth was $12 million.
Governor Brown advocated for "every white child” to be educated. Georgia was not, Brown insisted, reaching its true potential because the majority of the white population was not educated.
Brown was a secessionist, insisting that Abraham Lincoln's election to the White House meant abolition was imminent, and would soon thereafter lead to miscegenation, racial equality, and depressed wages for white laborers.
After Georgia seceded from the Union, however, Brown had almost constant conflict with the Confederation and its leader Jefferson Davis, who he thought was tyrannical.
In her "About North Georgia" biography on Joseph E. Brown, West Georgia Economics Professor Carole E.Scott wrote:
"Like many Southerners, he did not think whites and blacks could peacefully co-exist in the absence of slavery; so he thought sending them to Africa was a good idea. However, the cost of financing their transportation; the acquisition of land for them there; and supporting them until they could get established would significantly further increase the tax burden on on-slave owners."
After the South lost the Civil War in 1865, Brown was arrested and imprisoned in Washington, D.C. He was pardoned five months later and joined the Republican party that he fought against as governor. After the Reconstruction Era, though, he switched back to the Democratic Party. From 1880-90 he served in United States Senate until poor health forced him to retire.
Joseph E. Brown's son, Joseph Mackey Brown, was also governor of Georgia and one of the reported leaders of the notorious Knights of Mary Phagan mob that kidnapped and hanged Leo Frank, a Jewish pencil factory manager, who was accused of murdering 13-year-old Mary Phagan.
Governor Joseph E. Brown died Nov. 30, 1894, and is buried in the historic Oakland Cemetery in southeast Atlanta.
The overwhelmingly African-American Brown Middle School in southwest Atlanta is named in his honor.
This article was completed using Professor Carole E. Scott's Joseph E. Brown biography at http://ngeorgia.com/ang/Joseph_E._Brown; and The New Georgia Encyclopedia entries on Joseph E. Brown and Joseph M. Brown.