As a champion of the black labor movement, Ted Brown worked closely with Martin Luther King, Jr., throughout the civil rights movement. The two men became particularly close when Brown became president of the American Negro Leadership Conference on Africa in 1962. Throughout the 1960s, Brown and King collaborated on projects supporting African liberation struggles and an end to apartheid in South Africa.
Born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1915, Brown worked his way through college as a porter. He studied at Columbia, received his BA from Northwestern, and earned a certificate from Harvard Business School in 1944. In 1946 he joined the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and was appointed editor of the Brotherhood’s magazine, Black Worker. Brown quickly became the protégé of A. Philip Randolph, and Randolph recommended him for the position of assistant director of the civil rights department at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) in 1956.
In his position at the AFL-CIO, Brown mobilized African American workers around labor and civil rights issues. He encouraged collaboration between the AFL-CIO and King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, recognizing that the only organizations to boast more African American members than the trade unions were churches.
In 1958 Brown supplied King with a detailed paper on African Americans in the trade union movement for King’s book Stride Toward Freedom. King incorporated several paragraphs of Brown’s paper in the book, acknowledging his contribution in the preface. Brown was the secretary for the Negro American Labor Council (NALC), and when he was dismissed from the AFL-CIO in 1961, he believed it was because of his support for the NALC. Several months later King wrote a letter of reference for Brown, praising his “unswerving devotion to the ideals of American democracy … and his intellectual ability” (King, 12 June 1961). After leaving NALC, Brown became president of the American Negro Leadership Conference on Africa, where King was a committee member. In 1969 Brown was appointed special assistant to the director of the information staff at the United States Agency for International Development. He served as the agency’s special assistant on Africa from 1973 until 1977. He died in 1983 at the age of 68.