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How SDSU's First Black Administrator Overcame Racism While Fighting for Progress in San Diego

As part of NBC 7’s efforts to Celebrate Black History, we’re highlighting San Diego State’s first Black administrator and civil rights leader

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As he flips through the pages of the past, Doctor Harold “Hal” Brown’s 1952 yearbook photo brings back memories. Even as a star athlete, he wasn’t always treated with respect.

Brown first experienced racism at age 6 while heading to school and passing a factory in his hometown of York, Penn.

“The men would stand, would yell out to out the window as we were going by, calling us, of course, the N-word,” Brown said.

By junior high, Brown attended his first integrated school.

“There were no Black teachers,” Brown said. “Fortunately there was a white teacher who befriended me and really helped to guide me and introduced me to college.”

One thing mentors could not shield him from: discrimination. Even during his time at San Diego State College in 1953 and in Major League Baseball while trying out for the St. Louis Browns.

“They put the Black players in one barracks and the white players in another barracks,” Brown said. “I didn’t keep it together. I kept it inside.”

Brown kept his emotions inside until he reached his breaking point and decided to help fight to end racism. After college, he joined the civil rights movement by helping organize sit-ins, demonstrations and the integration of the communities of El Cajon and La Mesa. Also, he was one of the founding members of the San Diego chapter of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which led to a pivotal moment for Blacks getting hired at the Bank of America and San Diego Gas & Electric.

“I was arrested a number of times and had to take jail sentences for that,” Brown said.

By that time, Brown was a teacher and had to go before the California Department of Education to explain why they should not take away his teaching credential.

“Nothing happened,” Brown said. “I think they were just trying to scare me into stopping.”

Brown also served in the military, was a Peace Corps officer in the country of Lesotho, in Africa, and returned to SDSU to work in academic affairs, establishing the Afro-American Studies program.

Brown wants others to understand that the mental impact of racism is something you cannot always see.

“It’s just a very painstaking process of being Black in America,” Brown said.

Overall, when asked if he is proud of the America we live in now, Brown said, “Well, you used the word that I was going to use — that I’m proud of the progress that we have made, and I anticipate the progress that we will make.”

Brown is particularly interested in economic development and is in the process of creating a nonprofit to educate people of color in entrepreneurship, real estate, development and investing.

“We have watched this system just open up like a flower, but it hasn’t reached its peak yet,” Brown said.

Brown is featured in the Civil Rights History Project at the Library of Congress.

In 2011, SDSU’s library established the Harold K. Brown Civil Rights and African American Experience Collection, which contains historical photos, documents and recordings of American and San Diego history.

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