Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick

Prominent Attorney from Keosauqua

Samuel Joe Brown, who became a prominent attorney in Des Moines, was born in Keosauqua in 1875, at a time when Keosauqua had a large black population.

He often referred to his parents as “Uncle” Lewis and “Aunt” Lizzie Brown. Lizzie was a domestic in the homes of two Keosauqua lawyers--Robert and Hugh Sloan. She decided that she wanted her youngest child to be a lawyer like them.

Although both Lewis and Lizzie died before Samuel finished high school, their inspiration lived on and caused him to persevere, so that he was the first black boy to finish Ottumwa High School in the class of 1894.

Samuel was a very studious, intelligent young man and graduated from the University of Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in 1896, obtained a law degree in 1899, and had his master’s degree by 1903. He became the first black Phi Beta Kappa scholar.

Samuel Brown opened a law office in Albia in 1901. According to Hazelle Lanman, Brown tried his first case before Judge Robert Sloan while he was still on the bench in the 2nd Judicial District. How proud Judge Sloan must have been of this young lawyer.

Brown served with the U.S. Army 17th Provisional Training Regiment at Fort Des Moines in World War I. After that, he co-founded the National Bar Association in 1925. He was not new at founding organizations. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had only been around four years when he organized the Des Moines branch in 1914. He founded the Crocker Street YMCA and the Des Moines Interracial Commission. He served on the board of the YMCA for 17 years.

A prominent appeals attorney, Brown successfully pleaded the first restaurant discrimination case before the Iowa Supreme Court in 1906. He served on the Iowa Republican Central Committee and he was married to an activist, Sue Wilson Brown, a lifetime president of the State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs.

Samuel died in 1950 at the age of 75, but not before he earned the Des Moines Tribune Community Service Award in December, 1939, in recognition for his work in bringing together better social relationships between the classes of people in Des Moines. He was still active in the NAACP at the time of his death.

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick