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Black History Profile: Reg Brown has dedicated his life to preserving and honoring those who came before

SALISBURY — Reg Brown noticed a pattern in the types of books he enjoys reading.

“All of them had to do with strife and how people dealt with the conditions under which they were held in a positive way,” Brown said.

A few of his favorite books are “Dr. Zhivago,” “War and Peace,” Germaine Logan’s autobiography and Frederick Douglass’ biography.

“The thing that impressed me about Frederick Douglass was that he was a person who was bred by his master and his mother … who surreptitiously learned how to read and write. Because at the time, at his time, it was a capital offense (for slaves) to learn how to read and write,” Brown said.

Brown has spent his life dedicated to educating himself and others. He was a high school math teacher for 30 years in Hempstead, New York, and has become a local historian for Salisbury neighborhoods, particularly those around Livingstone College.

“I grew up around the college,” Brown said.

Brown’s father took a job at Livingstone when Brown was 3 years old, causing the family to move from New York to Salisbury.

“I went through the public schools in Salisbury with the exception of one year when my father got a pastor appointment in Tarrytown, New York. So I spent my second-grade year in Tarrytown, New York, and then we moved back to Salisbury,” Brown said.

Brown has spent other pockets of time away from the city he now calls home — a stint with the Peace Corps in Ghana; his time as a teacher in Hempstead.

But he said he always came back here.

The books that Brown calls his favorites focus on self-reliance and self-identity — values that Brown said were reflected in Livingstone College’s original philosophy.

“Particularly the ancient — I call it the ancient — days of Livingstone College was the era of self-help, where you had people who were coming out of slavery not knowing anything about how to read and write,” Brown said. “They structured that school in order to meet those challenges.”

Brown said a number of the people who most inspire him were alive during the era of slavery.

“It’s a combination between Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois and James E.K. Aggrey,” Brown said. “I liked Aggrey because he was a combination between Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Booker T. Washington wanted people to cast their buckets down and accept their fate and work their way up. Du Bois was one of the people who worked down. Aggrey was in the middle because Aggrey believed in the head, the heart and the hand.”

Brown said his father, a former dean of Hood Theological Seminary, also inspired him.

If Brown could have dinner with anyone, he would choose longtime Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

“He would be an excellent dinner guest because he can talk about other stuff besides the law. He was very well read. People don’t realize, he was very well read and (had) a lot of experiences,” Brown said.

Brown said he is not sure how he wants others to remember him.

“I’m trying to get some writing done. Not a memoir, I don’t think,” Brown said. “I haven’t even thought about that. I’ve been so busy running around here doing (things.)”

Some of the little things that inspire him include hearing children sing and “a good piece of classical music.”

“And I like some good old-fashioned African-American gospel and spiritual music,” Brown said. “That motivates me. That trains the savage beast in me sometimes, you know?”

Brown said when he thinks about black culture, he tends to look at it more as “human culture.”

“You know, it’s a contribution to the overall human culture. Just like African-American history is supposed to be American history,” Brown said. “But the way things were set up in this country, we were split apart to develop our own culture, our own strategy. It’s a strategy of living. It’s a survival strategy.”

Brown is a graduate of J.C. Price High School, which merged with Boyden High School to form Salisbury High School just after Brown got out of the Peace Corps.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.

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