Judge Brown: A Journey from North Carolina Farm to Fort Dodge Service Life | News, Sports, Jobs


How the son and grandson of sharecroppers who grew up on an eastern North Carolina farm growing tobacco, peanuts and cotton found their way to Fort Dodge for a career in education and the volunteerism that has made him one of the most respected residents of the community – and the state of Iowa?

For Judge Brown, it’s a story of determination, dedication and yes, a bit of luck.

It was in the fall of 1973 when Brown left North Carolina to take his first full-time job at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., teaching history and establishing the world‘s first training lab school. teachers at the historically black university.

“When I was teaching at the lab school, I met Dennis Williams, who was teaching English at Fort Dodge Senior High School,” said Brown. “He was from Jefferson City and I met him through his family – I knew his mother because she had her grandchildren in lab school. He told me about an opening in social studies in high school.

Brown applied, was hired, and moved in 1977 to Fort Dodge — where he taught at FDSH for nine years and at Iowa Central Community College for 19 — and where he volunteered in a wide variety of public services.

About his unusual first name of Judge? Well, he was inherited from his father, also named Judge Brown. He wears it proudly, but… “In middle school, the kids would tease with ‘Here comes the judge, here comes the judge’ (from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In show). I get a letter addressed to the Honorable Judge Brown. At a conference on the education in Des Moines, when I asked a lawyer a question, he said, “Well, your honor…” I said, “I’m not a judge, I’m a teacher.”

Brown’s grandfather, Robert Brown, and his father, Judge Brown, were sharecroppers on a farm outside of Bethel, a community of 1,500 in far eastern North Carolina, about 80 miles from the Atlantic coast. They grew tobacco, peanuts, cotton and soybeans.

Brown was one of Judge and Helen Hopkins Brown’s nine children. Six of them are still alive: Robert, who lives in Bethel; Alice Brown Howard, in Brooklyn, New York; Helen Ruth Bullock, in Greenville, North Carolina; Vernon, in Robersonville, NC, and Clarence, in Aurora, Colorado. Her deceased siblings were Gloristine, of Arlington, Va.; Patricia (Ann), of Raleigh, North Carolina, and Roy, of Bethel.

Brown was born in Bethel, grew up on a farm outside of town, and took a bus to Bethel for school. By the time he was in fourth grade, he said he knew he wanted to be a teacher.

“Teachers had to go to work all dressed up, they looked professional, they got a paycheck every month,” he said. “They didn’t have to wait to get paid until the fall when the harvest started. They didn’t have to go through the physical struggles and uncertainty that people like my dad went through. I didn’t like getting my hands dirty. When you work in tobacco, farming is a dirty job and something that didn’t interest me. With the teaching, I said to myself: ‘I would like to do that.’

He spent summers in high school in New Haven, Conn., where his mother’s three siblings lived — working in restaurant kitchens for two summers, in a heater manufacturing company another summer, and as a soda maker at Macy’s. another summer.

Brown attended North Carolina Central University in Durham – the first in his family to attend college – and in 1968 graduated with a bachelor’s degree in American history with a minor in geography.

He was in a semester of graduate school when Uncle Sam came knocking: he was drafted into the army in 1969 and after training as a doctor he was sent to Vietnam where he served for 14 months. He was assigned to the 23rd Artillery Group at a headquarters aid post at Phu Loi base camp, about 20 miles north of Saigon.

“My mom was petrified, and she made sure I took my Bible with me,” he said. “My wish was to come back the way I did, without trauma, without injury – and it happened. I’m very grateful for that. I did what I had to do and I came back and I went on with my life. I was blessed.

To this day, he has kept this Bible, which was presented to him when he graduated from college, in his home office.

Brown returned to graduate school and earned a master’s degree in American history at Central, the first publicly funded historic black college in the nation. He moved in 1973 to Lincoln University from Jefferson City and then – thanks to the advice of Williams – to Fort Dodge in 1977. Unfortunately, his father died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 50 when he accepted the offer.

Brown taught at FDSH for nine years and it was there that he met Shirley Harper-Lockman – a well-known employee of the Fort Dodge school and herself an active member of the community. They were married from 1993 until his death in January 2019.

“Judge Brown was my favorite teacher,” said Judi Flaherty Johnson of Fort Dodge, a 1983 FDSH graduate who took her ethnic studies course. “He was so easy to understand and was able to teach us about the diversity in the world from a classroom in small town Iowa. He taught, not preached, and that made him very accessible, charismatic and interesting. I met him a few years ago and he was still the same!

Charles Clayton, a student when Brown taught at FDSH and now founder and executive director of Athletics for Education and Success, said: “Judge was like the wise old sage when I went to high school and even as I got older, in as a cipher mentor. He would play devil’s advocate just to challenge you and make sure you think things through completely and weigh your options on decisions.

“He has done so much for black students at Fort Dodge and across Iowa, both on a personal level and in battles behind the scenes.”

Brown completed his high school education with a term and a half on the community school board. He served as director of the Fort Dodge Urban Ministry from 1986 to 1991 and moved to Des Moines when he joined the Iowa Department of Education as a consultant for school integration and multicultural integration. In this position, he traveled regularly to 12 desegregation districts across the state, including Fort Dodge.

He remained there until 1998, when Iowa Central President Bob Paxton offered him a position at Iowa Central.

“Shirley and I had been married for five years,” he said. “It was time to go home. I stopped being a road warrior – traveling all over the state.

At Iowa Central, he first worked in administration, then ended up as a full-time social studies teacher. His favorite class: Fundamentals of American government.

“I love politics and law and it just struck me,” he said. “I occasionally planned quizzes on the news, had my students read the newspaper, and paid attention to the news. They had to go to public meetings, school councils, legislative forums, town councils. They have learned so much from these.

Brown took early retirement in 2007. He had started teaching an online American history course four years earlier and when he retired he was asked to continue teaching online, which he did until 2017, when he retired again at the age of 71. .

Since 2008, Brown has volunteered at Friendship Haven, working with residents of Simpson Health Center.

“Judge Brown is part of the fabric of Friendship Haven”, said Julie Thorson, its president and CEO. “His kindness and compassion means so much to all of us. He has carved out the perfect niche for his time and special talents on the Friendship Haven campus. Almost every Sunday for over a decade, Judge has made a significant contribution by helping residents travel from their homes at Simpson Health Center to our worship service at Tompkins Celebration Center. We also often see Judge on weekdays escorting residents across campus to meetings with friends for coffee and a chat.

“Not only does the judge lend a helping hand, but his presence also energizes any room he enters, his interest is sincere and loving, and his endearing smile reminds us that we are all family at Friendship Haven.”

Brown was recognized in 2021 as the LeadingAge Iowa Volunteer of the Year at a banquet in Cedar Rapids and noted at the time, “I’ve always really enjoyed being with older people as far back as I can remember. I think it’s because I didn’t have many grandparents around when I was young. As a young man, I never had the opportunity to sit down and drink coffee and talk about things with people who had experience and wisdom on their side.

“I hear all kinds of interesting stories when I’m at Friendship Haven. It’s a wonderful crowd. You know, they’re at a stage in their lives where they’re just grateful for every day that’s given to them. They don’t have a personal agenda. They don’t try to be something they are not. It’s just a very simple and pure perspective. I so appreciate the relationship I have had with these people ever since I started there.

Brown has always remained active with a wide variety of boards and committees.

He has been involved since 1982 with the Harry Meriwether Scholarship, started by Elder LeRoy Johnson of Calvary Church, which has provided over 200 scholarships over the years to black or biracial black students. He spent 10 years as a member of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) – a good fit, he said, as he was raised by a mother “who took nothing.” Brown served for U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and U.S. Representative Tom Latham, R-Iowa, as an interviewer for military academy students. And he served on the nominating committee for the 2nd Judicial District, interviewing candidate judges.

He has also volunteered for the Teener League baseball program, Webster County Crime Stoppers, AARP, the African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids, and Urban Vision in Des Moines.

Brown has three stepsons, Shirley’s sons from her previous marriage: Alan Lockman, of Farnhamville; Daniel Lockman of Fort Dodge and David Lockman of Minneapolis. He has five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

“It was a great race for me” said Brown. “It’s partly because I work with great people, people who have embraced me since I came here in high school.”

What might his friends not know about him?

“I’m a good cook when I think about it” he said. “But since I’m diabetic, it’s a bit limited.

“I’m a big fan of classical music. I started listening to it when I was in college while enjoying the music. I love classical music – especially Iowa Public Radio Classical. I have Alexa, now I tell it, “Listen to the classic Iowa Public Radio station” — and play it all day.

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