George Henry Brown, Jr., the first African American appointed to serve on the Tennessee Supreme Court, was born on July 16, 1939 and grew up in in Memphis, Tennessee. Brown’s father Alfred was a car cleaner for the Illinois Central Railroad, and his mother Sara was a teacher for the Memphis Public School District. Brown is the oldest of three children including a brother, Alfred, and a sister, Sarita.
Brown graduated from Florida A & M University (FAMU) in 1960, receiving a BA in Political Science. While attending FAMU, Brown joined the Reserve Officers Training Course (ROTC) and the university’s Marching Band. After graduating from FAMU, Brown served in the U.S. Army from June 1961 until August 1964. Most of Brown’s military time was spent in Germany.
Right after joining the military, in August 1961, Brown married Margaret Solomon, a Savannah, Georgia native, whom he had meet while attending FAMU. Their first child, Laurita, was born in Germany in 1963.
After completing his military service, Brown and his family moved back to the U.S. where he enrolled in the Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C. Brown remained in the Army Reserves while attending law school and graduated from Howard in 1967 with a Juris Doctoral degree. The family then returned to Memphis. Brown was admitted to practice law in the State of Tennessee in the summer of 1967. A second child, George H. Brown, III (Hank) was born in 1966 in Washington, D.C.
Brown began his legal career in 1967 at the law office of A. A. Latting in Memphis as an associate attorney and served there for approximately a year and a half. During this time in 1968 Brown made his first electoral attempt, running as an independent for a Tennessee State Representative seat. He lost the election.
Afterwards, Brown began to work for the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 1968 as an investigator and held that post until 1971 when he became a conciliator in the Memphis office. From 1972 to 1975 Brown was the first director for the Legal Services Association in Shelby County.
Brown and Walter Evans founded the law firm of Brown and Evans serving in private practice from 1975 until 1980. In 1971, however, Brown was elected to the Memphis Board of Education and served for thirteen years, until 1983. Brown gained statewide notoriety as co-chair of Republican Lamar Alexander’s successful 1978 gubernatorial campaign.
In June 1980 Brown was appointed by Governor Alexander to fill the State Supreme Court’s vacancy created by the death of Justice Joe W. Henry. Brown was the first black Supreme Court Justice to ever sit on the court and the first Republican since Reconstruction. On August 7, 1982 Brown lost the electoral race to hold his seat to Frank E. Drowota, III a Democrat. He returned to private practice.
Brown was next appointed to the Circuit Court for the Thirtieth Judicial District of Memphis in 1983 by Governor Alexander, once again to fill a vacancy. Brown served on the bench until retiring in 2005.
Brown’s first wife Margaret passed away in 1994 and Brown married Lillian Hammon. They share a blended family of three children and five grandchildren. In 2015 Brown began a three-year term on the Supreme Court of Tennessee’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Commission.