Charles S. Brown

Attorney and Federal Official

Copyright © 1990, 2010
National Federation of the Blind

          With a Bachelor's Degree from Harvard and a law degree from Northwestern, Charles Brown should have found the job market both exciting and receptive in 1970, a year of expanded economy and bright prospects, but this was not the case. He had impressive credentials and good grades, but he didn't. He was blind. It was not the first time he had observed adverse and extraordinary treatment of the blind, but it was the first time he had personally faced such serious discrimination. It took him an entire year and more than a hundred interviews before he found a job.

          In 1971 Brown became a staff attorney for the U.S. Department of Labor (D.O.L.), and he has received regular promotions ever since. Today he is Counsel for Special Legal Services in the Office of the Solicitor at DOL. The Department has presented Brown with achievement awards five times--in 1979, 1985, twice in 1986 and 1987. In 1982 he was presented with the Distinguished Career Service Award, one of D.O.L.'s highest honors--often presented at the time of retirement. But Attorney Brown was chosen for this honor after only eleven years of service.

          Born blind in 1944 with congenital cataracts, Charlie Brown entered a family that expected success from its members, and he met the expectation. He attended Perkins School for the Blind until the eighth grade. Brown then attended Wellesley Senior High School in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and graduated in 1963, going immediately on to Harvard. When he applied to Northwestern Law School, questions were raised about blindness. He answered them satisfactorily and believes he was one of the first blind law students ever to study there.

          During summer jobs in 1966, 1967 and 1968 at agencies serving the blind in Chicago, Brown learned firsthand of the abuses of the sheltered workshop system for the blind in this country. It was also at that time that he met Dr. Kenneth Jernigan and made his initial contact with the National Federation of the Blind. Jernigan was speaking at a national conference, which (among other things) was considering ways of improving methods of instruction and increasing the availability of Braille. After the meeting Brown talked with Jernigan and began to subscribe to the Braille Monitor, the Federation's magazine. It was not until 1973, however, when Brown received a personal invitation from a chapter member in Northern Virginia, that he went to a Federation meeting.

          Through a chapter in Northern Virginia Brown officially joined the Federation in 1974 and later that year was elected to office. In 1978 he became president of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia and has been re-elected to that position for successive two-year terms ever since. He was first elected to the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind in 1984.

          Brown has always taken an active part in the life of the United Church of Christ. He teaches Sunday school and serves energetically on committees at the Rock Spring Congregational Church and has served generously at the Church's national level. In 1979 he was elected a corporate member of the United Church Board of Homeland Ministries (the body that oversees the missions work of the United Church of Christ). Within two years he was named Chairman of the prestigious Policy and Planning Committee and a member of the Executive Committee, both positions that he filled with distinction for four years.

          Brown met his wife Jacqueline during law school and the couple now has two sons, Richard (born in 1974) and Stephen (born in 1978). Brown says:

"I used to believe that one had to overcome blindness in order to be successful, but I have come to realize that it is respectable to be blind. Our challenge as Federationists is to persuade society of this truth."

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