Robert Span Browne

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Robert S. Browne (1924 - 2004)

"Robert Span Browne (“Bob”) was an economist, philanthropist, foreign aid advisor, anti-Vietnam War activist, professor, writer and founder of three black self-help organizations. Bob was born in Chicago on August 17, 1924 to William H. and Julia Browne. He had two older siblings, William and Wendelle.

"Bob was awarded a BA with honors in economics from the University of Illinois in 1944, and in 1947 was awarded an MBA in finance from the University of Chicago, becoming one of the first black Americans in U.S. history to earn an MBA. Bob later continued his studies at the London School of Economics, and subsequently completed all course work toward his doctorate at the City University of New York.

"Bob began his career teaching at New Orleans' Dillard University in 1947 and served as the Industrial Field Secretary for the Chicago Urban League from 1950-1952. Because of his desire to see the world, he used his savings to travel to twenty-four countries in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (1952-1953). Upon his return to the States, he secured a position as an International Trade Advisor, where he observed firsthand the overpowering manner in which the United States was shaping its policy in Vietnam and Cambodia. Aware that a major war was developing in Vietnam, Bob began protesting American involvement by meeting informally with various groups and writing letters to the editors of The New York Times, of which 22 were published. Bob ran for the United States Senate from New Jersey as an independent candidate in 1966 on an anti-Vietnam platform. He was particularly outspoken about African-Americans fighting another people of color. He focused on economics and other topics as they related to African Americans, including human development, communications, foreign policy, rural development and political empowerment.

"In the late 1960s, he shifted his focus to the economic development of the black community, launching three national self-help black organizations: The Black Economic Research Center (1969), created to provide an enabling vehicle where black economists could research and address problems of the black community; The Emergency Land Fund (1971), designed to resist the alarming decline in black land ownership; and The Twenty-First Century Foundation (1971), an endowed, national philanthropic institution that supports the civil rights, economic empowerment, and grassroots leadership of the African American community in the United States through its grantmaking and donor services.

"Through his writings, speeches and activism, Bob helped shape the discourse on black America in the 1960s and 1970s. He was admired and honored by heads of state, royal families and the social elite around the world. His expertise was valued by numerous organizations, whose efforts are largely acknowledged today as the catalyst for the anti-Vietnam War movement. In 1980, the United States Treasury Department appointed him the first U.S. Executive Director of the African Development Bank in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, an assignment he held until 1982. From 1982 to 1985, he served as Senior Research Fellow of African Studies at Howard University, and from 1986 to 1991 he was Staff Director of the Subcommittee on International Development Institutions of the House Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs, where he worked on issues related to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and Third World debt, among others. After semi-retirement in 1993, Bob became an economic consultant for Washington, D.C.-based organizations, several dealing with Africa.

"Bob also served as Jesse Jackson's advisor on economic policy during his 1984 campaign for the presidency; and made a presentation on U.S.-Africa policy at the Clinton/Gore Economic Summit in Little Rock, Arkansas shortly after the 1992 presidential election.

"Through August 2004, Bob continued to head the board of the Twenty-First Century Foundation, which continues to positively impact the African-American community nationwide, and has recently embarked on a major campaign to increase the size of its endowment.

"Bob lived in Teaneck, New Jersey, with his wife Huoi Nguyen. He is survived by many family members, friends and colleagues who considered him a mentor, inspiration and role model." [1]

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  1. Robert Span Browne, Twenty-First Century Foundation, accessed July 3, 2009.