on January 15, 2019
Genres: Civil Rights, Nonfiction, Personal Memoirs
Published by Convergent Books
An unforgettable account of a quietly remarkable life, Robert Brown's memoir takes readers behind the scenes of pivotal moments from the 20th century, where the lessons he learned at his grandmother's knee helped him shape America as we know it today. Called "a world-class power broker" by the Washington Post, Robert Brown has been a sought-after counselor for an impressive array of the famous and powerful, including every American president since John F. Kennedy. But as a child born into poverty in the 1930s, Robert was raised by his grandmother to think differently about success. For example, "The best way to influence others is to be helpful," she told him. And, "You can't go wrong by doing right."
Fueled by these lessons on humble, principled service, Brown went on to play a pivotal, mostly unseen role alongside the great and the powerful of our time: trailing the mob in 1950s Harlem with a young Robert F. Kennedy; helping the white corporate leadership at Woolworth integrate their lunch counters; channeling money from American businesses to the Civil Rights movement; accompanying Coretta Scott King, at her request, to Memphis the day after her husband had been shot; advising Richard Nixon on how to support black entrepreneurship; becoming the only person allowed to visit Nelson Mandela in Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town.
Full of unbelievable moments and reminders that the path to influence runs through a life of generosity, YOU CAN'T GO WRONG DOING RIGHT blends a heartwarming, historically fascinating account with memorable lessons that will speak to the dreamer in all of us.
My first thought reading this book was, “Why have I never heard of this man?” My second was, “This is like real-life Forrest Gump.” The man popped up at many of the major events of the 20th century in two countries.
When I finished I had to take a minute to review how this had happened.
- He was born in poverty in the south but was able to get an education over time.
- He took the police test for research but ended up scoring really high. He became one of the first black officers in his area.
- He started doing undercover drug work which led to him getting hired by the FBI to do that kind of work in New York City.
- That got dicey so he quit to go back to North Carolina to start a public relations firm. That was rough going.
- When students were protesting in Woolworth’s because of segregation at the lunch counters, he went to Woolworth’s and told them that he could negotiate a settlement.
- He became a fixer for companies that had racial issues.
- This led to him meeting and getting to know all the big civil rights leaders in the 1960s and helping them with corporate funding from the clients he had.
- He decided getting stuff done from the inside was more effective so he went to work for the Republicans in the Nixon White House to increase business funding to black people.
- Along the way he hired Stedman Graham who introduced him to his girlfriend Oprah Winfrey who was getting into television.
- He paid for the Mandela children to come to the U.S. for college.
- He ended up talking to the President of South Africa about whether or not to release Nelson Mandela.
I probably forgot some stuff in the middle. It was a wild ride.
It was interesting perspective to read about. At many points he was considered to be working for “the wrong side” by the black community. He worked for companies being protested against. He worked for Republicans. But he was able to work behind the scenes to potentially make more actual progress that he might have been able to in more traditional civil right roles.
This is a long video but you can listen for a bit to hear him tell his story.