When Bradford Brown attended the March on Washington in 1963, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream’’ speech, Brown went in fear.
Threats of losing his job because of his involvement with civil rights made him nervous, especially since he had three small children to take care of and college loans that needed to be paid off.
Almost 50 years later, that fear has been replaced with hope and celebration.
Brown, 70, will travel with his wife, Mable, back to Washington, D.C. for the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama on Jan. 20.
To Brown and many other civil rights activists, Obama’s victory represents the breakdown of racial barriers not only in American politics, but also in American life.
“Obama symbolically represents being anything you want to be,” Brown said of Obama’s election as the nation’s first African-American president. “Before this, you couldn’t consider that possible.”
Initially attracted to Obama’s plans for universal health care, the South Miami-Dade couple said they also came to admire him for his intellect, his power to move people, his views on foreign policy, his focus on urban areas and his sympathy toward African issues.
The Browns spent about two months during the primaries traveling from state to state, working at volunteer events, going door to door, securing commitments for Obama.
After Obama won the Democratic presidential nomination, the couple also supported his campaign through voter registration and get-out-the vote efforts. They co-sponsored two fundraisers and volunteered at several Miami events, including two appearances by Obama in South Florida.
“We were there from beginning to end,” Brad Brown said.
“I think he’s very sincere about trying to make this change,” Mable Brown said. I just feel that he is the kind of person that can bring the country to represent everybody instead of the same few people.”
The Browns also have been sincere about doing what they could to bring about social change in America. The Browns and their son, Jabari, 24, all have a history of involvement with civil rights.
While at the1963 march, Brad Brown said he, along with the 250,000 in attendance, recited a pledge that their involvement would not end with the historic demonstration.
The pledge, in part, read:
“I will not relax until victory is won. I pledge to carry the message of the March to my friends and neighbors back home and to arouse them to an equal effort. I will march and I will write letters. I will demonstrate and I will vote. I will work to make my voice and those of my brothers ring clear and determined from every corner of the land. I will pledge my heart and my mind and my body, unequivocally and without regard to personal sacrifice, to the achievement of social peace through social justice.”
“Taking that pledge was a very meaningful thing,” said Brad Brown, the only non-African American to have served as president of the Miami-Dade NAACP branch.
“We pledged ourselves to make that dream a reality…that’s a lifetime of work,” he said.
Before serving as president of the Miami-Dade NAACP, Brown served as first vice president of the branch, a position he currently holds. He has also served as chairman of the Community Relations Board and is a former vice president of the Metro-Miami Action Plan Trust.
Mable Brown, an African American, is a retired middle school teacher, and has served as a co-advisor of the Miami-Dade/South-Dade Youth Council, of which Jabari is a former president.
While making plans to attend the inauguration, Brown and his wife avoided many of the anticipated travel hassles by securing flight tickets early on and arranging to stay with family while in D.C. During their five-day trip, they look forward to attending the swearing-in ceremony, the inaugural parade and at least one ball, he said.
Although the presidential inauguration will mark one of the most historic moments in American history, as with the March on Washington, it is what happens after the event that really matters, Brad Brown said.
“I think that the most significant thing about the election is the tremendous number of people who got involved for the very first time in a political activity,” he said. “It’s important that people who got involved stay involved. People can’t go back to being spectators.”
“It doesn’t mean there’s going to be an overnight change,” Mable Brown said. “If you can see steps in the right direction, there is hope. And for many of us, there has been no hope.”
Photo: Bradford Brown and wife, Mable.