Jesse Brown flew honorably with the Navy

Jesse L. Brown
Wed, 1926-10-13

*Jesse L. Brown was born on this date 1926. He was and African American aviator in the U.S. Navy.

From Hattiesburg, Mississippi, he was one of six children born to Julia Lindsey Brown, a schoolteacher, and John Brown, a grocery warehouse worker. He had four brothers, Marvin, William, Fletcher, and Lura, as well as an older sister known as Johnny. The family lived in a house without central heating or indoor plumbing so they relied on a fireplace for warmth. At the beginning of the Great Depression, John Brown lost his job and relocated the family to Palmer's Crossing, 10 miles from Hattiesburg, where he worked at a turpentine factory until he was laid off in 1938. John Brown then moved the family to Lux, Mississippi, to be a part of a sharecropper farm. During this time, Jesse Brown shared a bed with his brothers and attended a one-room school 3 miles (4.8 km) away. His parents were very strict about school attendance and homework, and Jesse Brown walked to school every day. The family were committed Baptists and Jesse, William, and Julia Brown sang in the church choir. In his spare time, Brown also worked in the fields of the farm harvesting corn and cotton.

When Brown was six years old, his father took him to an air show. Brown gained an intense interest in flying from this experience, and afterward, was attracted to a dirt airfield near his home, which he visited frequently in spite of being chased away by a local mechanic. At the age of thirteen, Brown took a job as a paperboy for the Pittsburgh Courier, a black press paper and developed a desire to pilot while reading in the newspaper about African-American aviators of the time including C. Alfred Anderson, Eugene Jacques Bullard, and Bessie Coleman. He also became an avid reader of Popular Aviation and the Chicago Defender, which he later said heavily influenced his desire to fly naval aircraft.

In his childhood, he was described as "serious, witty, unassuming, and very intelligent." In 1937, he wrote a letter to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in which he complained of the injustice of African American pilots being kept out of the U.S. Army Air Corps, to which the White House responded with a letter saying that it appreciated the viewpoint. Because the school’s closer to his family were of lower quality, in 1939, Brown lived with his aunt and attended the segregated Eureka High School in Hattiesburg. He was a member of the basketball, football, and track and field teams and he was an excellent student, graduating as the salutatorian in 1944. During this time, Brown met his future wife, Daisy Pearl Nix.

Following graduation, Brown sought to enroll in a college outside of the South. His principal, Nathaniel Burger, advised he attend an all-black college, as his brother Marvin Brown had done, however, he ended up enrolling at Ohio State University as his childhood role model, Jesse Owens, had done. Burger told Brown only seven African Americans had graduated from the school that year, but Brown nonetheless was determined to enroll, feeling he would compete well with white students. He enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1946. His enlistment was terminated a year later after which he accepted an appointment as a midshipman in the U.S. Navy.

Midshipman Brown joined Fighter Squadron 32 in 1949 and was commissioned as an Ensign on 15 April of that year. Ensign Brown's squadron joined Fast Carrier Task Force 77 in Korea in October 1950. As a pilot of Fighter Squadron 32, Ensign Brown became a section leader and received the Air Medal for daring attacks against the enemy at Wonsan, Chongjin, Songjin, and Sinanju. In addition, during the Korean War he lead his section in the heart of hostile anti-aircraft fire, helping inflict heavy losses on the enemy. On December 4th, 1950, during close air support to the Marines fighting near Chosin Reservoir, his plane was struck by enemy fire and crashed and Brown died.

On March 18th, 1972, the USS JESSE L. BROWN (FFT-1089) was named in honor of Ensign Jesse Leroy Brown, U.S. Naval Reserve, and the first Black naval officer to lose his life in combat during the Korean War.

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Brown, Jesse L.