Anderson Hunt Brown (1880 – 1974) was an American businessman, real-estate developer, and civil rights activist.
He was born on April 23, 1880 in a three-room house in Dunbar, West Virginia. His parents, recently freed from slavery, took multiple jobs to make ends meet, enlisting Brown and his siblings’ help in their work as a farmer and laundress.
Despite only having a fourth-grade education, Brown began his entrepreneurial journey at an early age. He would climb onto coal train cars, throw coal onto the tracks, and with his friends, sell it to local businesses for 50 cents.
As a teenager, Brown learned to play the trombone and traveled to Cincinnati and other Western cities with his brothers in their band, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” netting $10 a week (about $300 in today’s terms) for their performances.
He learned how to cut meat and opened a butcher shop and an adjoining restaurant. Several years later, he took a real estate investing course in Boston and used his earnings to buy a house at 1219 Washington Street, next to Charleston High School.
Brown’s frustration with a lack of affordable housing for Black families in Charleston inspired him to build a real estate empire, filling that need. He built commercial properties and leased office space to fellow Black entrepreneurs, creating one of the earliest Black-owned shared work spaces.
Brown also bought land around Charleston to build houses, which he rented affordably to Black community members who may have had trouble securing housing from the mostly all-white realtors at the time. By the time of his death in 1974 at the age of 94, Brown had owned and managed up to 100 properties.
In addition to developing residential and commercial properties, Brown fought for civil rights throughout his life. He was frustrated by the lack of adequate medical care for Black citizens and discrimination, which led to the opening of the Community Hospital in 1924, the city’s first state-of-the-art hospital for Black residents.
Brown used his influence and wealth to launch successful court battles that struck down segregation laws at local swimming pools, libraries, and lunch counters in his home state of West Virginia.
He instilled this passion for civil rights in his children, and his son, Willard L. Brown, became the first Black judge in West Virginia and represented the state chapter of the NAACP in a case of racial discrimination in public schools, which became part of the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, that banned segregation in public schools.