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Former San Francisco Mayor

The fight for equality not over yet, says Mayor Willie Brown

By Vijeta Tandon | null null , null

Former mayor Willie Brown Jr. and Governor Schwarzenegger
Former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown Jr., left, introduces California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger during a fund-raiser for the Willie Brown Jr. Institute on Politics and Public Service on October 13, 2006. (Photo: Tony Avelar/AP Images)

February 2007

The First African-American Mayor of San Francisco, California, Willie Brown is an inspirational figure around the nation.

Aside from being famous for his term as Mayor from 1996-2004, Brown served for more than 30 years in the California State Assembly. He was Speaker of the Assembly for 14 years. He was so powerful as speaker that opponents waged a successful battle to pass a term limits law in California to get him out of office. Once forced out of his position as an Assembly member, he ran for Mayor.

The 73-year-old lawyer recently sat down with Scholastic News to talk about his life as a politician and as a prominent African-American leader.

“Almost everyday in my life, there is something in me that reminds me that I am treated differently because of skin color,” Brown said.

When asked if he felt his ethnicity enabled him to better cope with issues involving minorities while he was Mayor, Brown said no. He said that he does not think that he was able to make better or worse decisions because of this, but was able to understand problems involving these kinds of issues more thoroughly. Nobody had to explain to him why something was a problem, because often he had faced the same kind of problem himself.

Brown also feels that Black History Month is a time to remember and appreciate all the great contributions that African-Americans have made to this country.

“Black History Month, for me, becomes very significant, because it expands the knowledge of African-Americans’ participation in the development of this nation,” Brown said. He added that he hopes this knowledge will eventually lead to a nation without prejudice or racism.

The fight for equality is not over, Brown said. It is still as important as it was at the time of Martin Luther King Jr. Brown believes racism is still one of the biggest challenges the nation has to face today.

At the time of this interview, several Democrats, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, had just announced their candidacy for President. If Obama were to win, he would be the first African-American President. Clinton would be the first female President.

When asked if the U.S. was ready for an African-American or female president, Brown said yes.

“I think America is ready for a fresh face . . . I do think that America is ready for a woman’s leadership,” Brown said.

Scholastic News asked Brown if he had any advice for kids who want to hold public office in the future.

“Credential, Credential, Credential. The system in this country is based upon what’s behind your name,” he answered. “Scholarships [and] intellectual achievement become the cornerstone of the entire future for any young person, in particular, the future of public service.”

Brown obviously took his own advice. He was born in a small segregated town in Texas. He moved to San Francisco to study at San Francisco State University. He became involved in campus politics and was active in the NAACP’s fight against segregation. Brown said college exposed him to people who were making a difference in the world. They led him to pursue a career in law, and eventually to run for political office.


What does Black History Month mean to you? Join a discussion.

Black History Month

Celebrate Black History Month with Scholastic News Online! Learn more about African-American leaders and their contributions. 

About the Author

Vijeta Tandon is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

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