WE ALL HAVE SOMETHING
Awards and shared moments with dignitaries fill her office: Spike Lee, Jimmy Carter, Harry Reid. In a photo with Michelle O’Bama both women smile as if in the midst of some good talk. But the photo of which she is most proud appears in a 1991 Ebony naming her, “One of America’s Most Promising Business & Professional Women.” This city knows Hannah Brown as the innovating President Emerita of the Urban League, whose scholarship foundation has now helped to send over 500 students to college. Before civic life, Ms. Brown chartered new territory, taking flight, as one of the first Black women to become a regional manager for Delta airlines.
I had a great career. I worked my butt off and I was rewarded—27 years. Of course, I was the first regional that we had in the corporate office. I was going to the bathroom one day and, all of a sudden, it really registered with me: I was the first Black person who’d ever walked those halls in a corporate position. My eyes filled up with water. I was walking hallowed ground. My mom was born and raised on a farm in Arkansas and she was determined to not starve to death. She came here to work at the El Rancho Vegas. I was six years old. . .1945. I graduated from Westside School. Now, I’m on the Centennial Committee, and was able to get a four-million-dollar grant for the renovation of my little school. Being raised on the westside during segregation, we knew a lot of the entertainers because if they wanted to socialize, they came to the westside and socialized with us. I met Nat Cole when I was a little girl. He stayed in the Harrison rooming house. The kids would get together and walk up and down in front of the house until he finally came out. I started working for Larry’s Music Shop when I was fifteen. I was his first salesgirl. I worked for Larry for thirteen years. The first sale I had for over a hundred dollars at Larry’s Music was to Della Reese. She’d come in the store and you’d recognize that heavy voice. Redd Foxx used to come over quite a bit, too . . . he had a little red scooter. Muhammad Ali came in all the time, two, three times a week. He would invite us to come out and just socialize with us. When he fought Sonny Liston, he gave three of us ringside tickets. I think I bent over to put my purse down and the fight was over. When I worked at the ticket office at the Sahara, Jack Benny would appear there all the time. He would come by and visit with me. One day, he asked me, “What’s your name?” And I said, “My name is Hannah Brown.” And he said, “You’re a smart one.” And I said, “Um-huh, but you knew that.”