Who is H. Rap Brown?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Born on 4 October 1943, H. Rap Brown is best known as a former civil-rights worker and African-American rights activist. He served on the board of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1967, acting as its chairman. He is perhaps most famous for his time as the Justice Minister of the Black Panther Party. However, that is not his only claim to fame. He is also known for calling violence as American as apple pie and threatening to burn America down if it did not come around to recognizing both the rights and the plight of black Americans during the 1960s.

The Black Panther Party carried loaded weapons in public to represent a willingness to defend themselves.
The Black Panther Party carried loaded weapons in public to represent a willingness to defend themselves.

H. Rap Brown did not always believe in violent ways of working for the rights of black Americans. In fact, he was actually described as a pacifist in the period before he joined the Black Panthers. It was as a student at Southern University that he was very involved with SNCC, a group that was known for its pacifist leanings. Eventually, however, SNCC's reputation changed. As Brown gradually began to vocalize his belief in more violent methods of achieving better treatment for African Americans, the group's reputation also started to lean away from strict pacifism.

By 1968, H. Rap Brown seemed to leave pacifism behind completely. It was in that year that he joined the Black Panther Party, which was founded by Eldridge Cleaver. Soon after joining, Brown rose from mere member to Minister of Justice. His promotion occurred at a Los Angeles Black Panther rally, during which Brown is said to have made violent calls to action, instructing the oppressed to kill police and set fire to United States cities.

Interestingly, it was not only Caucasian America that angered H. Rap Brown. He also took issue with African Americans whom he considered sell-outs. He apparently felt so strongly about the issue that he was compelled to publish a book in 1969, letting readers know how he felt about sell-out blacks. Though the book has been described as autobiographical, it was also seen as a call to arms intended to spur the black community toward revolution.

In the years following the publishing of his book, things seemed to go downhill for H. Rap Brown. Soon after publishing his book, he faced charges of inciting a riot in Maryland. Less than a year later, he was convicted of the illegal transporting of a gun between states. In 1970, he was supposed to stand trial in Maryland on another charge, but he mysteriously disappeared and did not report for trial. He was eventually apprehended in 1972, when he was shot in a New York City saloon, after which he was arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced.

H. Rap Brown was released from prison in 1976. On parole, he started a business in Atlanta, Georgia. He also served as a lecturer and writer in the late 1970s. Having converted to Islam in prison and taken the name, Jamil Abdullah al-Amin, Brown also became a Muslim leader.

Though H. Rap Brown had moved on, his troubles were not over. In 2000, he was arrested for shooting and killing one sheriff’s deputy and wounding another. He was found guilty of the charges in 2002, receiving a sentence of life in prison. Surprisingly, both of the police officers whom Brown was convicted of shooting were African American.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments


Hmmm. The Black Panthers were riddled with criminality. My heart goes out to the families of Officers Kinchin and England.

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