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If you like Willie Brown's story, you might also like:
Ben Carson,
Rudolph Giuliani,
Daniel Inouye,
John Lewis,
Ralph Nader,
Rosa Parks,
Anthony Romero,
Alan Simpson,
Antonio Villaraigosa
and Andrew Young

Willie Brown can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Willie Brown in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Tolerance
What is a Leader

Willie Brown's recommended reading: The Prince

Willie Brown also appears in the video:
Making a Better World: What is Your Responsibility to the Community?

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Willie Brown
 
Willie Brown
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Willie Brown Interview (page: 2 / 6)

Former Mayor of San Francisco

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  Willie Brown

What books inspired you?

Willie Brown: All literature. In my early years I was a prolific reader of every subject matter, of every story. It was one way I survived the horror of living in a segregated community like Mineola. There, in those books, were my dreams, my Walter Mitty life. I still find myself daydreaming about being a part of some text. I've gotten away from the reading that I used to do, and I'm sorry I have. Vision and age sometimes dictate another set of circumstances. But I read and loved everything I could get my hands on, trash and otherwise.

Were there values and experiences you brought with you from Texas that helped you when you got to got to college, and when you entered politics?

Willie Brown: I think so.


I think that moving into adulthood at 11 or 12 years of age, self-sufficiency, independence, decision making in a responsible fashion, never allowed to be a flake, or never tolerated to be a flake, all constitute qualities that have been of immeasurable value in every aspect of my life. Just the discipline of being able to set your time when you went to school, when you did your homework, when you did the work you had to do, your household chores. And you always had those, every kid in my household was assigned those, and every kid that I knew in the community. Plus the fact that you had to help produce that which sustained the family, and you could not be selfish.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity


Part of that six bucks I made went to help take care of my brothers and sisters who did not have a job. The ability that I had to develop of getting along with adults in a segregated world, all of that has stood me in great stead.


The thing that I marvel about in my situation is that by all rights I should really hate white people for the kind of treatment that I received. But there, at this stage of my life, and probably for the last 40 years, I can't even conjure up how horrible it really was. So there's no way for me really to describe it. And I carry no residual displeasures towards any race of people. I think the experience that I had there made me a more tolerant person than I ordinarily would have been.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance


How did you decide to go to college and become a lawyer?

Willie Brown: I actually went off to college to become a math teacher. I was determined that never again would a Charles Gregory be burdened with having to teach black kids, my friends, my relatives, from the perspective of a coach.

Willie Brown Interview Photo
In part, I was motivated because I'd gotten such great grades in math, not realizing that I really didn't have the skills. Frank Crawford was number one, I was number two in the class. I picked up a couple of "Bs" in deportment. That separated us. Otherwise, we were both straight-A students. Math was our strong suit. We scored 100 on every paper involving math. This math teacher, my coach, had so inspired me, that I was coming back to teach math. I also knew that I could get a job doing that.

Once I got to California however, at the behest of my uncle, I tried to enter Stanford University and could not, because I didn't have the grades, nor the previous academic exposure, nor the money. I entered San Francisco State and, almost instantly, all of that altered and I became more interested in philosophy, logic and political science.

I had rejected the ROTC, and when I was about to graduate, in order to avoid instant induction into military service, I had to go to graduate school and get an exemption. That's how I entered law school. I didn't start out to be a lawyer. I didn't leave Mineola headed for law. I didn't leave Mineola headed for graduate school.


I was going to go to college so that I didn't have to work at the pea house all of my life. That's a pea processing plant, and it was the only job that I'd ever witnessed any adults in Mineola really having, unless you worked on the railroad, which is what my father did. You didn't have any other jobs. You couldn't even be anybody's chauffeur. The town was so poor that the white people didn't even have chauffeurs, as such. So, there was nothing there that would inspire you to want to pursue it. The undertaker seemed to be okay, but the undertaker also had another job, I think he was a lawn mower, or something. So there was not enough people dying to even want you to be an undertaker. But teachers got paid. They got paid a lot less than the white teachers, but they got paid. And they worked nine months out of the year.

[ Key to Success ] Vision


Most of the teachers didn't live in Mineola, and most of the teachers had cars, and they had the nice houses when they did live in Mineola. All of that said to me that if I couldn't be my uncle, then I was going to be my teacher.

I loved literature. I loved the theatrical side of that. I acted in all the plays, but all of the kids were doing that pretty effectively. You could only have one or two English teachers, or Lit teachers. I wasn't going to be a Home Ec teacher. There was no science department as such, so math was the only other subject. I was obviously not good enough in athletics to want to become a coach. So by default, math became my tool. But by the time I was though my first semester at San Francisco State University, I knew that my verbal skills would ultimately be my ticket, either in the world of broadcasting, or in something other than that. Law came as an afterthought.

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This page last revised on Nov 11, 2013 20:18 EDT
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