BROWN, Corrine

Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
BROWN, Corrine
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
1946–

Biography

In 1992 Corrine Brown was part of the first group of African-American lawmakers elected to the United States House of Representatives from Florida since 1877. During her congressional career, Brown worked to bring federal programs to her Jacksonville district using her seats on the Transportation and Infrastructure and the Veterans’ Affairs Committees. She also pushed civil rights reforms both at home in Jacksonville and abroad. Brown, who became the subject of ethics investigations during her career, embraced her admittedly outspoken legislative style and believed her mission in the House went beyond her history-making election in 1992. “It means a lot more than the glamor of being elected,” she once remarked. “Once you’re elected it means getting things done. It means representing people that have not been part of the process.”1

Corrine Brown was born in Jacksonville, Florida, on November 11, 1946. She grew up in the city’s Northside neighborhood and graduated from Stanton High School.2 As a single mother, she raised a daughter, Shantrel. Brown earned a bachelor’s degree in 1969 and a master’s degree in 1971, both from Florida Agriculture and Mechanical University. In 1972 Brown graduated with an educational specialist degree from the University of Florida. She taught at the University of Florida and Edward Waters College before moving to Florida Community College in Jacksonville, where she taught and served as a guidance counselor from 1977 to 1992. She also opened her own travel agency in Jacksonville.3

In 1979 Brown’s close friend, college sorority sister, and political mentor, Gwen Cherry, died in a car crash. Cherry was the first African-American woman elected to the Florida house of representatives, and her death pushed Brown toward politics. Two years later, Brown won a seat in the Florida legislature and served for a decade.4

In 1992 Brown made the jump from state politics and ran for the U.S. House of Representatives. No African-American candidate had won election to Congress from Florida since Representative Josiah Thomas Walls served during Reconstruction. During the redistricting process in the lead up to the 1992 elections, Brown was among several minority Florida lawmakers who called for more districts with Hispanic and African-American majorities. One of the new districts covered northeastern Florida and encompassed Brown’s hometown. Resembling a “wishbone or horseshoe,” the new district stretched from Jacksonville to Orlando and west through Gainesville and Ocala.5 Brown officially filed her candidacy after a federal court approved Florida’s new district map.6

Brown faced stiff competition in the Democratic primary. Her three challengers included Arnett Girardeau, a Black state senator with 16 years’ experience; Orlando-based school guidance counselor Glennie Mills; and the only white candidate, talk show host Andy Johnson. Looking to the grassroots, Brown branched out from Jacksonville and crisscrossed the district. “I have really learned the back roads,” she noted.7 Brown came in first in the primary election, but since no candidate took a majority in the first round of voting, Brown went to an October runoff where she defeated Johnson.8

In the general election, Brown faced Don Weidner, general counsel for the Florida Physicians Association. Her campaign promised to direct federal resources to the district: fixing the school system, bringing jobs to the area, and protecting Social Security and Medicare. On Election Day, Brown won by 18 points. She made history that fall alongside Alcee Lamar Hastings and Carrie P. Meek as the first African-American lawmakers elected from Florida since Reconstruction.9 Although Florida’s redistricting process was a constant hurdle during Brown’s career—Florida changed her district borders four times over her tenure in the House—she generally won re-election with 55 percent or more of the vote.10

When Brown took her seat in the 103rd Congress (1993–1995), she received assignments to three committees: Government Operations; Veterans’ Affairs; Public Works and Transportation. In the 104th Congress (1995–1997), she stepped down from Government Operations, and in the 113th Congress (2013–2015) she left Veterans’ Affairs. She retained her seat on Public Works and Transportation (later named Transportation and Infrastructure) for her entire career. Brown chaired the Transportation’s Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials during the 110th and 111th Congresses (2007–2011).

Brown was also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) in the House—not only was she one of the first Black women elected from Florida, she was part of a wave of Black lawmakers in 1992 that increased the roster of the CBC from 26 to 40. Brown was elected the CBC’s first vice chair in the 109th Congress (2005–2007). The 1992 election cycle also saw huge growth in the number of women in Congress, and Brown was an active member of the Women’s Caucus as well.11

Brown’s main priority in Congress was to improve the economy in north Florida by steering federal aid to her district.12 Unafraid to use earmarks—the practice in which lawmakers fund specific projects and programs using large discretionary congressional spending bills—Brown led the effort to construct an $86 million federal courthouse in Jacksonville. She also secured federal dollars to repair the Fuller Warren Bridge in Jacksonville, where Interstate 95 crossed the St. John’s River. She later directed money to a new mental health and rehabilitation center in Jacksonville and funded a biofuel conversion project.13 When Congress adopted a self-imposed moratorium on earmarks in the 112th Congress (2011–2013), Brown did not alter course. She vowed “to continue what I have been doing every single day since my first election in 1992, specifically bring home a fair share of the federal dollars.”14

From her seat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Brown fought to initiate Florida rail projects to meet the state’s booming transportation needs. In 1998 she orchestrated a nearly 60-percent increase in funding for federal transportation programs back home. She was especially mindful of Amtrak’s budget, cosponsoring and arguing in favor of more funding for the rail carrier throughout her career. Brown also frequently defended the CSX Corporation, a railway freight company based in her district. Rail safety was a key issue for Brown, and she supported multiple bills funneling funding to railroad security—especially during her time leading the Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee.15

With a large military presence in her district, most notably the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, Brown regularly supported defense funding. Brown described the military as a place where working-class Americans could find opportunities unavailable elsewhere, and she wanted more resources for personnel training.16 As a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, she was also attentive to the needs of women veterans and veteran’s health care. Brown sponsored bills strengthening infant and maternal care, as well as legislation opening access to breast cancer treatment.17

At times, Brown addressed issues far outside her district. In 1993, shortly after arriving on Capitol Hill, she worked with other Florida and CBC Members to push the William J. (Bill) Clinton administration to apply economic pressure on Haiti to restore its democratic government by re-installing deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.18 Brown saw military force in Haiti as an option of last resort, preferring to use foreign aid as a means to encourage change. She urged U.S. officials to offer political asylum to thousands of Haitians who arrived in the United States looking for help.19

Brown also took up the cause of Liberians, pushing to extend temporary visa status for thousands who came to America after a civil war in Liberia during the early 1990s. In 2000 she gave an impassioned speech on the House Floor imploring Congress to budget more money to fight the global AIDS epidemic. “AIDS in Africa is a direct threat to our country, especially in today’s interconnected world,” she observed.20

Brown had an outspoken legislative style that often made headlines. One reporter summarized her politics as a mix of “one part partisan politics with two parts moral indignation.”21 Brown briefly lost her speaking privileges on the House Floor in 2004 when she accused Republicans of executing a “coup d’état” and of stealing the contested 2000 presidential election results in Florida. The House had her “words taken down,” a parliamentary procedure invoked when a Member has violated House decorum—in this case, accusing another Member of a crime. The House also voted to have her words stricken from the Congressional Record.22 Brown remained unapologetic about the incident. “If they’re going to take down my words for telling the truth, that’s OK,” she responded.23

Although Brown ran into ethical and legal trouble during her career, her constituents continued to return her to office, and she ran unopposed in 2006 and 2008.24 As she approached her primary election in 2016, however, she faced two challenges. A state court ordered Florida to redraw its districts after ruling that the existing borders purposefully segregated minority voters into a single district. Brown’s new district stretched east-to-west along the Georgia border from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, and though it remained 63-percent African American, Brown lost much of her traditional constituency along the St. John’s River.25 Secondly, in July 2016, a grand jury charged Brown and her chief of staff with 24 counts of mail and wire fraud, conspiracy, obstruction, and filing false tax returns. The charges stemmed from Brown’s tie with a charity which provided scholarships to low-income students. The lawsuit alleged that Brown and several associates siphoned off money to pay for personal expenses.26

Just a few weeks after the indictment landed, Brown lost a three-way race in the Democratic primary.27 After a month-long trial, Brown was convicted on 18 counts on May 11, 2017.28 On December 4, 2017, Brown was sentenced to five years in prison.29 She reported to Coleman Federal Correctional Institute in Sumter County, Florida, on January 29, 2018.30 On January 9, 2020, the U.S. Court of Federal Appeals for the 11th Circuit rejected Brown’s appeal.31

Footnotes

1Bruce I. Friedland, “Jacksonville’s Pragmatic Liberal U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown Passionately Pushes Her Causes and Delivers Bacon Back to City,” 19 July 2000, Florida Times-Union: A1; Bill Moss, “This Election is Black History in the Making,” 30 August 1992, St. Petersburg Times (FL): 1B.

2The names of Brown’s parents are not public record.

3“Corrine Brown,” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774– Present, https://bioguide.congress.gov; Peter Mitchell and John Van Gieson, “New Twist in Case of Corrine Brown’s Travel Agency,” 9 January 1994, Orlando Sentinel: G5.

4Brent Kallestad, “Florida A&M Proud of Political Ties,” 5 October 1992, Miami Herald: B5; Steve Patterson, “Corrine Brown Indictment,” 9 July 2016, Florida Times-Union: B3.

5Congressional Quarterly Inc., CQ’s Guide to 1990 Congressional Redistricting, vol. 2 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1993): 81–84, 86.

6John D. McKinnon, “Uncertain Candidate Gains Certainty,” 13 May 1992, St. Petersburg Times (FL): 4B.

7Moss, “This Election is Black History in the Making.”

8Dan Sewell, “Graham Clinches Democratic Nomination in Partial Primary,” 2 September 1992, Associated Press; Peter Mitchell, “Voters in Congressional Races Find Comfort in Familiar Faces,” 2 September 1992, Orlando Sentinel: A1; Tim Nickens, “Black Woman Wins Runoff in N. Florida,” 2 October 1992, Miami Herald: A20.

9Friedland, “Jacksonville’s Pragmatic Liberal.”

10Brown’s battles with Florida redistricting in the 1990s and 2000s are comprehensively documented in Redistricting Task Force for the National Conference of State Legislatures, “Florida Redistricting Cases: the 1990s,” accessed 6 March 2017, https://www.senate.mn/departments/scr/REDIST/Redsum/flsum.htm; Susan A. MacManus et al., “Redistricting in Florida: Loud Voices from the Grassroots,” in Jigsaw Puzzle Politics in the Sunshine State, ed. Seth C. McKee (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2015): 142–144; Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics,1920 to Present.”

11Larry Still, “New CBC Members May Change Black Agenda,” 21 November 2002, Afro-American Red Star (Washington, DC): A1.

12Politics in America, 2010 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2009): 226.

13Sean Holton, “Projects Have Same Pork Taste,” 24 May 1994, Orlando Sentinel: 3A.

14Quotation from Politics in America, 2012 (Washington, DC: CQ-Roll Call, Inc., 2011): 219.

15Politics in America, 2002 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2001): 215–216; Congressional Record, House, 109th Cong., 2nd sess. (12 July 2006): H5098.

16Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012, H.R. 6455, 112th Cong. (2012).

17Women Veterans Health Equity Act of 1996, H.R. 3713, 104th Cong. (1996).

18“Clinton’s Haiti Gamble Pays Off,” CQ Almanac 1994, 50th ed. (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1995): 449–451, https://library.cqpress.com.

19Hearings before the House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on International Law, Immigration, and Refugees, Haitian Asylum-Seekers, 103rd Cong., 2nd sess. (1994): 66–67.

20Congressional Record, House, 106th Cong., 2nd sess. (12 July 2000): H14039.

21Friedland, “Jacksonville’s Pragmatic Liberal.”

22Congressional Record, House, 108th Cong., 2nd sess. (15 July 2004): H5865.

23Politics in America, 2006 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2005): 231. For more information on a separate incident between Brown and an Indiana Republican, see Politics in America, 2008 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2007): 227.

24For an overview of Brown’s ethics issues, see Steve Patterson, “Corrine Brown Indictment; Brown’s Political Career Full of Drama,” 9 July 2016, Florida Times-Union: B3; Politics in America, 2004 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2003): 225; Politics in America, 2006 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2005): 231; Politics in America, 2008: 228; “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”

25Alex Tribou and Adam Pearce, “Courts Are Shaking Up House Elections in 2016,” 3 December 2015, Bloomberg News, https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/graphics/2015-redistricting/; Steve Patterson, “Corrine Brown Indictment Alleges Charity Was Slush Fund for Trips, Luxury Seats at Events, Car Repairs,” 9 July 2016, Florida Times-Union, https://www.jacksonville.com/news/metro/2016-07-09/story/corrine-brown-indictment-alleges-charity-was-slush-fund-trips-luxury.

26Patterson, “Corine Brown Indictment Alleges Charity Was Slush Fund.”

27“Incumbents Out; Corrine Brown Could Not Win in Newly Drawn Congressional District,” 31 August 2016, Florida Times-Union: A1; Steve Patterson, “It’s All Over for Corrine Brown,” 31 August 2016, Florida Times-Union: A5.

28Eric Garcia, “Brown’s Former Aide Testifies He Was Following Her Orders,” 4 May 2017, Roll Call, https://www.rollcall.com/2017/05/04/browns-former-aide-testifies-he-was-following-her-orders/; Steve Patterson, Nate Monroe, and Christopher Hong, “Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown Convicted on 18 of 22 Charges,” 12 May 2017, Florida Times-Union: A1; Nate Monroe, “Free for Now, Corrine Brown is Back in Her Element,” 18 May 2017, Florida Times-Union, https://www.jacksonville.com/news/metro/2017-05-18/free-now-corrine-brown-back-her-element.

29Cleve R. Wootson Jr., “Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown Sentenced to Five Years in Prison in Charity Slush-Fund Case,” 4 December 2017, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2017/12/04/former-congresswoman-corrine-brown-sentenced-to-five-years-in-prison-in-charity-slush-fund-case/.

30Steve Patterson, “No Iron Bars, But Prison Comes Monday for Ex-U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown,” 27 January 2018, Florida Times-Union: A1; Steve Patterson, “Brown Begins Prison Sentence,” 30 January 2018, Florida Times-Union: A1.

31Steve Patterson and Andrew Pantazi, “Ex-Rep. Brown’s Conviction Upheld,” 10 January 2020, Florida Times-Union: B1.

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

[ Top ]

External Research Collections

University of Oklahoma
The Julian P. Kanter Political Commercial Archive, Department of Communication

Norman, OK
Videoreels: 1994, 2 commercials on 2 videoreels. The commercials used during Corrine Brown's campaign for the 1994 U.S. congressional election in District 3 of Florida, Democratic Party.
[ Top ]

Bibliography / Further Reading

"Corrine Brown" in Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U. S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2008.

"Corrine Brown" in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U. S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2006.

[ Top ]

Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Government Operations
  • House Committee - Public Works and Transportation
  • House Committee - Transportation and Infrastructure
    • Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials - Chair
  • House Committee - Veterans' Affairs
[ Top ]