Written by Connie Larkman
A United Church of Christ pastor widely regarded for his lifetime of work for peace and racial reconciliation, the Rev. Edward Martin Brown III, died May 23 in Atlanta. He was 93.
Two years after the UCC’s formation, Brown left ecumenical youth work in Europe in 1959 to help bring about non-violent solutions to racial problems in the southern United States. The UCC employed Brown as a full-time "consultant on race relations."
While the names and faces of some civil rights leaders became familiar to the nation in the early 1960s, Brown worked quietly within the UCC and in the South to create a climate of peace and acceptance.
“He was a genuine Southerner who came up with all of the prejudices and anxieties of the South, but he worked through them and was comfortable in any situation, black or white," said the Rev. Andrew Young, UCC pastor, former ambassador, and former mayor of Atlanta. “He was one of those bridge personalities, I say, that in a time of crisis, helped each side understand the other side."
In his earlier years, Brown had served for two years as an intern in race relations with the former American Missionary Association at UCC-related Fisk University in Nashville. The UCC recognized his Southern roots and experience at Fisk, and Brown’s rapport with church leaders –– both black and white –– lent considerable credibility and momentum to his future work with the UCC.
Among Brown’s most valued contributions to race relations was a three-year term with the Student Christian Association at the University of Texas in Austin, where he brought together students from two black denominational colleges and the all-white university.
Ten years before the now-famous Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott, Brown was organizing integrated rides on Austin's public buses, with black students and white students sharing seats. When bus drivers challenged the seating arrangements, students asked other passengers if they objected. Most of the time, there were no objections, but sometimes the students were asked to leave.
Brown was one of three white persons to attend the organizing meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960. The Rev. James Lawson served as chair, while the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and staff members of the Southern Christian Leadership Council were in attendance.
In 1965, the UCC's "Southeast Convention" voted to receive the African-American churches of the Congregational Christian Convention of the South, in partnership with the Southern churches of the former Evangelical and Reformed Church. The result was the establishment Jan. 1, 1966, of the UCC's Southeast Conference.
In 1970, Brown ended his full-time work as a UCC race-relations consultant. His first wife, Freda, died in 1986. He married Joyce Myers in 1987.
Brown was born in Shreveport, La., on Jan. 30, 1919; he was raised there and in Switzerland. He graduated from Duke University in 1941 and Yale Divinity School in 1944.
A memorial service for Brown will be held at Central Congregational UCC in Atlanta on June 3, with a graveside service at the Decatur Cemetery. A second service, for the Wesley Woods Towers community, will be held June 6. Memorial donations may be made in Brown's name to Central Congregational UCC.
Survivors include his wife; son and daughter-in-law Martin and Joan Brown of Cuba, N.M.; daughter Maria Brown of Baltimore; son Paul Aubin Brown of Atlanta; and eight grandchildren.