A Bit of Local History
Honoring Local Black Leaders
By Paul Hicks
More than a century ago, two Black families moved to Rye, and their children remained to raise their children in Rye. This two-part article will tell some of their stories, including the lasting contributions they made to their communities. Their stories overlap, but this first installment is mainly about Robert S. Brown and his wife, Lester, while the second part focuses on M. Paul Redd and his wife Orial.
Robert Brown’s family first settled in Rye when his grandfather became a steward at the Apawamis Club in its early days. Robert’s father was a beloved and respected letter carrier for the Rye Post Office, and Robert followed in his footsteps (each of their routes included my family’s home in Loudon Woods).
Among Robert’s many civic achievements were his appointment as the first African American on the Local Draft Board in White Plains and his selection as chairman of Rye’s Human Rights Commission. One of his most significant roles was as President of the Port Chester/Rye Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
The current president of the Port Chester/Rye NAACP, Tom Kissner, described in a recent telephone conversation how the chapter was created in 1941, following a sensational criminal trial. The defendant was a Black chauffeur, charged with raping his wealthy white employer at her home in Greenwich. One of the members of the NAACP legal team that successfully defended him was a Thurgood Marshall, who in 1967 was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The NAACP got involved in the case after receiving word that frightened Westchester families were firing their Black servants. That posed a big threat to the Black community, much of whose income then was based upon domestic work in white homes. As a result, a group of local Black leaders obtained a charter for the Port Chester/Rye NAACP chapter from the national organization.
Although both M. Paul Redd and Robert Brown were honored in the community during their later years, they had opposition earlier. When, in 1962, the Redd family was denied approval to move into the Rye Colony apartments, the local NAACP picketed along the Peck Avenue sidewalk. Mr. Redd filed a complaint in Albany that resulted in a law banning racial discrimination in housing, which will be detailed in Part 2 of this article. Around the same time, a mysterious fire in the middle of the night burned the garage of Robert Brown’s Midland Avenue home; fortunately, without harm to the house or family.
The most prominent memorial to Brown and his achievements is the Carver Center in Port Chester, which he helped to found in 1943, the year that George Washington Carver died. Anne Bradner, Carver’s current CEO, shared an account of Carver’s early years by Robert Brown, who wrote that it was founded in 1943 because of the country’s war mobilization.
“By February 1942, the United States was calling for the drafting of men ages 20-44…Men and women who were working left their jobs to go to work in defense plants. This left school children who returned home from school with little or no supervision. This fact became a concern for our leaders and ministers that something had to be done. A push for a community center would help as a place for children to come to and help keep them off the streets.”
In addition to being one of the Carver Center’s founders, Brown was a longtime board member and even served as a part–time director. He died at the age of 92 in 2007 and was survived by his wife, Lester Mae Brown, their four children, eleven grandchildren, eighteen great–grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren.
<For information about Carver and its current work in the local community, visit carvercenter.org. Part II of this article will be published in the February 26 issue.>