"It was a horror chamber. It got to be a little bit better when... I could work in the fields and make a couple of dollars a day. At 12 years of age, I could actually make six bucks a week shining shoes. Using those dollars, to buy the things that ordinary kids had, relieved the misery a bit, but only a tiny bit."
When Willie Brown was growing up in the 1940s, the African-Americans of rural East Texas lived in poverty. The daily humiliations of segregation were enforced by the constant threat of violence. In the summer of 1951, 17 year-old Willie Brown left the world he knew and boarded a train for San Francisco with all his worldly belongings packed in a single cardboard suitcase.
In California, Willie Brown would become a successful attorney, and a political figure with national influence. For an unprecedented 15 years he dominated state government as Speaker of the Assembly. When his service in the Assembly was done, he returned to San Francisco to serve as Mayor of the city that had given him the opportunity to realize his dreams.
Willie Brown's genius for political strategy has made him a legend among political insiders, while his fiery oratory, flamboyant lifestyle and exuberant personality have made him a favorite with the voters of San Francisco for over 30 years. As Mayor of his adopted city from 1995 to 2003, he became one of the nation's most prominent and passionate spokesmen for the causes of urban America.