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The story behind an NAACP icon calling President Nelson one of the great faith leaders ‘south of heaven’

The Rev. Amos C. Brown of the NAACP and President Russell M. Nelson stand together at a news conference.
The Rev. Amos C. Brown, representing the NAACP, and President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stand next to each during the announcement of a new partnership between the two organizations during a press conference at the Church Administration Building in Salt Lake City on Monday, June 14, 2021.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
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Two years ago, the Rev. Amos C. Brown memorably introduced President Russell M. Nelson to the NAACP convention in Detroit as “a brother from another mother.”

The Rev. Brown is 80 but preaches with the vigor of someone half his age. A former student of Martin Luther King Jr., his charisma fuels soaring phrases, physical flourishes and bold and enduring proclamations.

He made several about President Nelson again on Monday morning during a news conference to announce the church’s $9.25 million commitment to help Black Americans with scholarships, humanitarian aid and education.

When President Nelson walked into the Church Administration Building lobby, where the news conference was held just steps from his own office, he was linked arm-in-arm with both the Rev. Brown on one side and NAACP President Derrick Johnson on the other.

As the Rev. Brown took his turn at the podium before a crowded lobby full of journalists, he turned to President Nelson and again called him “my brother from another mother.”

“I want to acknowledge in my remarks,” he added, “that you are the quintessential embodiment of the best leadership in the faith community of the United States of America anywhere to be found south of heaven, north of hell.”

The Rev. Brown continued, figuratively noting ways that President Nelson’s efforts with the NAACP are in harmony with the first church president’s work on behalf of American Blacks.

“You are the reincarnation of one Joseph Smith, who back in April the Sixth, 1830, had a vision for a spiritual community, and that vision was not egocentric, self-centered or nationalistic,” the Rev. Brown told President Nelson. “That vision was about love for all humankind. For many in America do not know that Joseph Smith was a leader of the abolitionist movement in upstate New York, at Fayette, New York. And Joseph Smith ran for the presidency of the United States of America in 1844 and his major plank in his platform was the abolition of slavery by 1850. He actually predated Abraham Lincoln and his efforts. He actually had the spirit also that was imparted in the great Frederick Douglass, who spoke about the struggle that all decent believers following Jesus should be a part of, and that was to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with one’s God.”

Sitting next to President Nelson and wiping tears from his eyes while the Rev. Brown spoke was Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Elder Rasband, who conducted the news conference, was next to the podium.

“Well, now, Dr. Brown, I truly am speechless,” Elder Rasband said. “Dear friend, thank you for that stirring message.”

Afterward, Elder Rasband told me that the Rev. Brown’s extemporaneous comments touched him.

“Reverend Brown is clearly a world class preacher,” he said. “... What brought a bit of a tear to my eye is that this great Black leader in America, who has a history with the great leaders of generations ago, would stand here in this room and express himself in those terms, meant so much to me.

“I’ll never forget the bookends of Russell Nelson’s message today and Amos Brown’s message today,” Elder Rasband added, “and then their warm, unscripted embrace. Those did bring tears to my eyes, which I’ll never forget. I mean, one is 96 going on 97, and one is 80 going on 81. And so this was a unique moment in history today, to see this.”

The Rev. Brown had multiple reasons for his comments. Among them was an overarching thought and two feelings that were distinctly and poignantly personal.

  • First, the Rev. Brown believed the relationship forged by President Nelson with the NAACP and now the UNCF (United Negro College Fund) is an example to the nation.

“... This very partnership of the NAACP and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be the saving factor to redeem the soul of the United States of America,” he said during the news conference. “... Look at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, look at the NAACP, for if you take what they use of love, civility, justice and peace, you won’t lose.”

  • Second, the Rev. Brown told me after the news conference that six months ago, church leaders gave him a five-generation personal history.

“They opened up my eyes and my understanding of why I’m who I am,” he told me. Then he explained how he had learned more about his great-great-grandfather, Patrick Brown, who was born a slave but became a landowner after the Civil War, and his grandfather on his mother’s side, who with his brother voted in every election after Reconstruction until they were stopped by the Ku Klux Klan.

“We’ve had a great time getting to know each other, loving each other and making commitment to enterprises like what we’ll be about now.”

  • Finally, the Rev. Brown was stunned by President Nelson’s announcement that the church and NAACP had decided to name the $250,000 fellowship that will send 50 students to Ghana to study the Transatlantic slave trade will be named the Amos C. Brown Student Fellowship.

He was visibly moved by the honor.

“I am peacock proud, hyena happy and elephant elated,” the Rev. Brown said.

You can watch the Rev. Brown’s comments beginning at 19:39 of this KSL video.

My recent stories

‘Break down slavery!’ How Joseph Smith strengthened American democracy (June 16)

Church provides millions to NAACP, UNCF for scholarships and humanitarian aid (June 14)

What NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a Latter-day Saint sacrament meeting (June 13)

One young mother’s harrowing march on a deadly trail with her baby to reach a church relief center (June 12)

Church will reforest sacred Hill Cumorah, site of angel’s visits to Joseph Smith (June 11)

Church releases exact locations of new temples in Nevada, Utah and Wyoming (June 10)

What I’m reading

I remember watching Vai Sikahema return kicks during snowy BYU football games when I was a freshman. Now he is a General Authority Seventy. Here’s a profile of Elder Sikahema by Jason Swensen. The former NFL player and TV broadcaster says, “I identify first as a son of God and as a Latter-day Saint.”

Church leaders broke ground Saturday for the Syracuse Utah Temple.

See two quick-read graphics that show where the percentage of Latter-day Saints living in every U.S. territory and state and Canadian province.

Here’s a great explainer about the huge kerfuffle regarding Major League Baseball cracking down on pitchers using sticky stuff on the baseballs right in the middle of the season. Why the crackdown and how it’s causing a rift across the game.

Behind the Scenes

The NAACP’s president sings a hymn sitting between two Latter-day Saint apostles at a worship service in Salt Lake City.
From left to right: Elder Jack N. Gerard, a General Authority Seventy; Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson; and Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Twelve sing a hymn during the Salt Lake Utah Stake’s 14th Ward sacrament meeting on Sunday, June 13, 2021.
Leslie Nilsson, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints