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Leroy E. Browne Sr., a former Beaufort County councilman who was South
Carolina's first black elected official after Reconstruction, died Sunday in his home in the Corners community of St. Helena Island. He was 91.'
Former colleagues remembered Browne on Monday as a hero and a wise mentor who led the way for black leaders during the civil rights movement. He received national attention when he was elected to the Beaufort County Board of Directors in 1960 - five years before the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which removed voting requirements such as literacy tests.'
"That set the pattern for all of the United States," said his friend Thomas Barnwell Jr.'
He served on the board, which later became the County Council, until 1980, seeing it go from a five-member board with a white majority to a nine-member council with a black majority.'
He once said he became motivated to become involved in the civil rights movement when he first met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference when they attended retreats at Penn Center in the early 1960s. Penn Center already was notable among civil rights leaders for being the first school for freed slaves.'
Browne was a wise veteran of the council who was a mentor to younger black councilmen who followed him, said Magistrate Joseph Kline, a former councilman.'
"He took me under his wings and taught me how to be a councilman," said Kline, who was a councilman from 1979 to 1996. "He was the most caring man I've ever met (and) a tremendous statesman."'
Current Councilman William McBride served alongside Browne for a short
period and remembered him as a champion for education and healthcare. ' St. Helena Island's first health center, part of Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services, was named in Browne's honor in 1980.'
Browne was also a voice for the poor, Kline said.'
"'The rich always take care of themselves,' he would say, 'but the poor need help,'" Kline said. "He accomplished things not for himself but for the benefit of his people."'
Barnwell, a Hilton Head Island native and community activist himself,
recalled Browne's actions to get sanitary water to parts of the county that did not have adequate indoor plumbing in 1969, advising Barnwell on the engineering.'
Browne worked at Penn Center for 25 years as superintendent of buildings and grounds, working closely with Emory Campbell, who later became the center's executive director.'
"He taught me everything I knew about Penn Center," Campbell said. Even after Browne's retirement from the center, Campbell said he would go to Browne for wisdom.'
Browne was born May 30, 1916, on St. Helena Island, a son of George and Redell Browne.'
He began his involvement with Penn Center as a child, graduating from the Penn School in 1934. He also graduated from Hampton Institute, which is now Hampton University in Virginia, in 1940.'
He was a member of the NAACP, the Low Country Regional Council, the board of directors of the Sea Island Federal Credit Union, the Sea Island Farmers Co-op, and the Executive Committee of the Democratic Party.'
When he retired in 1980, Browne was given the state's highest honor, The Order of the Palmetto, presented by former Gov. Richard Riley for
accomplishments and contributions to the state.'
In 2004, Browne was honored by the South Carolina Voter Education Project and presented with the Trailblazer Award for his contributions in encouraging blacks to become registered voters and to participate in the political process.'
"I helped to open the doors so other blacks could put their feet in the political arena," Browne said before his death, according to a biography released by his family. "Whatever else was accomplished, I give credit to the people who served with me. I never viewed my service as any individual feat."'
Services will be at noon Saturday at Brick Baptist Church, where Browne was a member for 84 years, serving on the church's board of trustees and as its treasurer.'
Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Corinne Jefferson Browne; four
daughters, Carol Garner of Suwanee, Ga., Rosalyn Browne of St. Helena
Island, Cynthia Husband of Stone Mountain, Ga., and Martha Douglas of
Beaufort; a son, Leroy Browne Jr. of Lithonia, Ga.; six grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.'
Chisholm-Galloway Home for Funerals is in charge.