Jim Brown was unapologetically Black.
Favored with unsurpassed physical gifts and notable intellect, the iconic American forged a paradoxical legacy of exquisite greatness and contemptible flaws that complicated the stances many took on Brown’s life of exceeding celebrity.
Brown passed away at the age of 87 last Thursday in his home in Los Angeles. His wife Monique posted on Instagram: “To the world he was an activist, actor, and football star. To our family he was a loving and wonderful husband, father, and grandfather. Our hearts are broken…”
During the 1960s and 1970s when the Civil Rights and Black Liberation Movements converged and non-violent protest and armed struggle were both viewed as efficacious means to achieve equity and justice in turbulent times, Brown represented unwavering strength among both factions.
He was a towering figure. Born in Jim Crow St. Simons Island, Georgia, in 1936 and reared in Manhasset, New York, where racism and segregation were more nuanced than in the deep South but correspondingly injurious, Brown went on to become one of the greatest athletes in history.
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Brown earned All-American honors in both football and lacrosse at Syracuse University. His professional football career, spanning nine seasons from 1957-1965, was illustrious. Playing for the Cleveland Browns under head coach Paul Brown, one of the most revered men in the game’s annals, Brown won eight rushing titles, was a three-time MVP, and an eight-time All-Pro. He retired at 29, still a dominant player as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher.
He was equally impactful off the field as an activist and actor. He was the organizer of the Cleveland Summit, also known as the Muhammad Ali Summit. The meeting was held on June 4, 1967 in Cleveland and was attended by some of the most powerful Black athletes of that time, including Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Willie Davis, and Ali, among others. They convened to discuss Ali’s refusal to not accept mandatory military service through the draft to fight in the Vietnam War.
Brown was also a proactive advocate of Black economic empowerment and was a co-founder of the Black Economic Union of Kansas City in 1968. He received 53 acting credits in memorable movies such as “The Dirty Dozen” and “100 Rifles.” In the late 1980s, Brown emerged as a leading presence in curbing gang violence and rehabilitating formerly incarcerated men through his Amer-I-Can Foundation, founded in 1988. His wife Monique became the organization’s president.
Contradictory to his positive work, Brown was arrested multiple times for assault against women. It has left a pervasive mark on his otherwise shining biography, one that cannot be stricken.
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