How SDSU’s first black administrator overcame racism while fighting for progress – NBC 7 San Diego
As he flips through the pages of the past, the yearbook photo of Doctor Harold “Hal” Brown from 1952 brings back memories. Even as a star athlete, he wasn’t always treated with respect.
Brown first experienced racism at age 6 on his way to school and past a factory in his hometown of York, Penn.
“The men were getting up, shouting out the window as we passed, calling us, of course, the N-word,” Brown said.
In college, Brown attended his first integrated school.
“There were no black teachers,” Brown said. “Luckily there was a white teacher who befriended me and really helped guide me and introduce me to college.”
One thing his mentors couldn’t protect him from: discrimination. Even during his time at San Diego State College in 1953 and in Major League Baseball as he tried 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 helping organize sit-ins, protests, and the integration of communities in El Cajon and La Mesa. Additionally, he was a founding member of the San Diego Chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which led to a watershed moment for black hiring at Bank of America and San Diego Gas & Electric.
“I’ve been arrested multiple times and had to take jail time for it,” Brown said.
At the time, Brown was a teacher and had to go before the California Department of Education to argue why they shouldn’t strip him of his teaching credential.
“Nothing happened,” Brown said. “I think they were just trying to scare me into quitting.”
Brown also served in the military, served as a Peace Corps officer in Lesotho, Africa, and returned to SDSU to work in academic affairs, establishing the African American Studies program.
Brown wants others to understand that the mental impact of racism is something you can’t always see.
“It’s just a very laborious process being Black in America,” Brown said.
Overall, when asked if he was proud of the America we now live in, Brown replied, “Well, you used the word I was going to use – that I’m proud of the progress we have made, and I anticipate the progress we will make.
Brown has a particular interest in economic development and is in the process of creating a non-profit organization to educate people of color in entrepreneurship, real estate, development and investing.
“We’ve seen this system open like a flower, but it hasn’t peaked yet,” Brown said.
Brown is featured in the Civil Rights History Project at the Library of Congress.
In 2011, the SDSU Library established the Harold K. Brown Civil Rights and African-American Experience Collection, which contains historical photos, documents, and recordings from American and San Diego history.