Life & Career
Congressman George Brown was a progressive voice and leading force in national policy and Southern California’s economic development for more than 50 years. From 1962 to 1999, he represented parts of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Riverside Counties in the U.S. House of Representatives. Brown’s priorities included national science policy and space exploration, civil rights, higher education, labor, environmental protection, transportation planning, tribal community recognition, and international cooperation.
George E. Brown Jr. was born March 6, 1920, in the Imperial Valley town of Holtville, just north of the border with Mexico. He grew up in a family of very modest means surrounded by farmers and immigrants and went on to graduate as valedictorian of his high-school class. Brown remained dedicated to creating access and opportunities in education, the workforce, and public service for students from low- to moderate-income households throughout his career. His wife, Marta Brown, continued to advocate and advance these goals for more than 20 years after his passing until her own death on December 17, 2021.
In 1940, Brown enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). As president of the Student Housing Association at UCLA, he invited African American student Luther Goodwin to become his roommate, thereby ending the University of California's de facto segregation policy.
Committed to constitutional rights and also close to numerous Japanese Americans, Brown actively opposed the sudden, forced internment of nearly 110,000 people, many of them U.S. citizens, following the presidential executive order of February 1942. He was originally a conscientious objector from World War II but later enlisted and served in the army. After the war, he returned to work for the city of Los Angeles and become active in the engineers’ union. Living in the Eastside suburb of Monterey Park, Brown also took an interest in local politics, running for and winning a spot on his city council in 1954.
Monterey Park gained distinction for welcoming Chinese and Pacific Island immigrants, as well as newcomers from Mexico and Latin America. Integration, nondiscrimination, and recognition of workers’ rights were major planks of the California Democratic Council, in which Brown took a leading role. He became mayor of Monterey Park in 1958 and ran for California State Assembly that year and won.
In 1959, as an Assemblyman, George Brown introduced the first legislation anywhere to ban the addition of lead to gasoline. Attuned to revelations of negative effects on health, behavior, and learning from lead exposure, Brown would achieve federal rules fulfilling this goal between 1973 and 1983.
In 1962, Brown ran for Congress from a district on L.A.’s Eastside and won. Arriving in Washington, D.C., to join the House of Representatives, he met President Kennedy. The connection augured a House career devoted to space exploration and breakthroughs in federal protection of civil rights and voting rights.
In 1963, first-term Congressman George Brown warned President Kennedy of the dangers he foresaw in America's growing presence of military advisers in Vietnam.
Brown vigorously backed the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and attended its signing in the East Room of the White House in early July by President Johnson. In the historic photo of the occasion, Brown is seated in the third row to the left of the President, in a white shirt and black tie, directly behind then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.
In both 1966 and 1967, Brown stood alone as the sole vote in the entire House of Representatives challenging President Johnson and opposing the military budget that included funding for the Vietnam War, which did not end until 1975.
In 1969, George Brown first began speaking about the global warming problem that only a few scientists then recognized.
In 1970 Brown ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate from California, attracting strong support from antiwar activists for his early and sustained opposition to the Vietnam War.
He returned to Congress in 1972, representing a district covering parts of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, often referred to as the Inland Empire.
Brown survived several heavily contested reelection races from 1980 to 1998. Having amassed considerable knowledge and the respect of colleagues, Brown became chair of the House Science Committee from 1991 to 1995.
Brown maintained long friendships with Riverside mayor Ron Loveridge and the late five-term Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley. In testament to their deep solidarity, Bradley invited Brown to sit with him on the dais in 1990 at the Los Angeles welcome ceremony for then newly released political prisoner of the apartheid era and future president of South Africa Nelson Mandela.
Brown believed in efforts to resolve international conflicts through nonviolent strategies. He worked throughout the period of U.S. military rivalry with the Soviet Union to reduce the risk of nuclear warfare. Brown shared credit for an Emmy Award recognizing technological innovation for the ABC series “Capital to Capital” that ran from 1987 to 1990. The show linked policy-makers in Moscow and Washington, during the era of glasnost, or opening, yet amid lingering tension over the dangers of mutual nuclear attack.
Brown relished educating children about science. And he was a passionate advocate for conservation and environmental protection.
Brown credited his diverse and dedicated staff with meeting the challenges he set and maintaining close ties to constituents in California and supporters nationwide.
Many staff members pursued municipal, state, and federal elected office, carrying on his legacy of service. These include former state Assemblymember Wilmer Amina Carter; San Bernardino Community College District board member and former Assemblymember John Longville; and former San Bernardino City Clerk Rachel Clark.
George Brown passed away July 15, 1999. Among facilities or programs named for George Brown are:
The Department of Agriculture’s Salinity Laboratory, at the University of California, Riverside.
A large section of California’s 210 Freeway in Rialto.
The George Brown Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation. Aimed at improving the ability of structures and communities to withstand temblors, the network is supported by the National Science Foundation and based at Purdue University in Indiana.
The Near-Earth Object Survey of the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA). This research initiative, first authorized in 2005, seeks to assess the paths and composition of asteroids that pose any risk of passing nearby Earth.
The library of the National Academies, in Washington, D.C. The National Academies include the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council.
The annual awards of the Arlington, Virginia-based U.S. Civilian Research Development Fund (CRDF), which promotes U.S.-Russian scientific and technological cooperation.
George E. Brown Jr. Federal Building and Courthouse in Riverside.
George E. Brown Jr. Elementary School in San Bernardino, opened in August 2013 serving grades K to 6. Students adopted the name “The Explorers” to honor the curiosity and passion for space and science of the late Congressman.
In addition, George Brown is the subject of a painting in the meeting room of the Science Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.