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Andrew F. Brimmer

Economist, academic and business leader Andrew F. Brimmer was born in Newellton, Louisiana, on September 13, 1926. The son of sharecroppers who had been driven off of the land by boll weevils, Brimmer attended local racially segregated elementary and high schools. Upon graduation, Brimmer moved to Bremerton, Washington, with an older sister and worked in a navy yard as an electrician's helper. In 1945, Brimmer was drafted into the Army, where he served until November 1946. After completing his military service, Brimmer enrolled in the University of Washington, where he earned his B.A. degree in economics in 1950. In 1951, after receiving his M.A. degree, Brimmer won a Fulbright grant to study in India. In 1952, Brimmer enrolled in Harvard, where he earned his Ph.D. in 1957.

While working on his doctorate, Brimmer went to work for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as an economist. While working with the Federal Reserve Bank, Brimmer traveled to Khartoum, Sudan, to help the country establish a central bank. During the John F. Kennedy administration, Brimmer became assistant secretary of economic affairs in the U.S. Department of Commerce, and served until 1966. That same year Brimmer began an eight-and-a-half year term on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System; while filling this role, he became the first African American governor of the Federal Reserve. In 1974, Brimmer left to take a post at Harvard University, where he stayed for two years. Upon leaving Harvard, Brimmer formed his own consulting company, Brimmer & Co. In 1997, Brimmer returned to his former position as a governor of the Federal Reserve, and in 1999 became vice chairman.

Brimmer was elected to the Washington Academy of Sciences in 1991, largely as a result of his published works on the nature and importance of central banking systems. Brimmer served as vice president of the American Economic Association and president of the Eastern Economics Association; he also served as the president of the North American Economics and Finance Association, in addition to serving on a number of other corporate boards of directors.

Brimmer passed away on October 7, 2012 at age 86.

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Vancouver, British Columbia

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District of Columbia

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Economist Andrew F. Brimmer (1926 - 2012 ) became the first African American vice president of the Federal Reserve. He was president of the North American Economics and Finance Association and serves on a number of other corporate boards.


Federal Reserve Bank of New York

United States Department of Commerce

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

Harvard University

Brimmer & Co.

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Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Andrew Brimmer interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Andrew Brimmer lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Andrew Brimmer tells stories of the 1800s from relatives and an ex-slave neighbor

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Andrew Brimmer talks about his father's work in farming and the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Andrew Brimmer discusses his parents' marriage and his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Andrew Brimmer describes his childhood community of Newellton, Louisiana

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Andrew Brimmer remembers Saturday nights in his childhood community in Louisiana

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Andrew Brimmer recalls his family's church activities

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Andrew Brimmer discusses interracial relationships in 1930s Louisiana

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Andrew Brimmer recounts his elementary school years

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Andrew Brimmer remembers his school teachers

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Andrew Brimmer describes his small segregated secondary school in rural Louisiana

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Andrew Brimmer tells about relatives who left Tensas Parish, Louisiana

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Andrew Brimmer explains how he moved to Washington state for a war job after high school

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Andrew Brimmer recalls starting college in Washington state

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Andrew Brimmer remembers his Army training in 1945

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Andrew Brimmer recounts his Army service in Hawaii in 1945-1946

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Andrew Brimmer recalls studying economics at University of Washington

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Andrew Brimmer recalls his Economic Cooperation Administration internship in 1950

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Andrew Brimmer discusses his application for a Fulbright Grant to study in India

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Andrew Brimmer remembers his study in India in 1951-52

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Andrew Brimmer recalls his meeting and work with economist Wassily Leontief

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Andrew Brimmer remembers his first meeting with John Kenneth Galbraith

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Andrew Brimmer discusses his paper on industrial financing in India, 1952

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Andrew Brimmer recounts working for the Federal Reserve Bank while finishing his dissertation

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Andrew Brimmer shares observations of Sudan's transition from colonialism in 1956-57

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Andrew Brimmer recalls his work in the Sudan

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Andrew Brimmer explains his career path to Washington, DC

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Andrew Brimmer remembers his appointment as Assistant Secretary of Economic Affairs under Lyndon Johnson

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Andrew Brimmer details his investigation of discrimination in public accomodations for the Commerce Department

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Andrew Brimmer describes his Commerce Department work and Lyndon Johnson's temper

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Andrew Brimmer details his appointment to the Federal Reserve Board by President Johnson

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Andrew Brimmer recalls Johnson's appointing him and other blacks to high-level positions

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Andrew Brimmer remembers his stint as a Harvard professor and starting his company

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Andrew Brimmer recounts his appointment to the Washington D.C. Financial Control Board

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Andrew Brimmer recalls the Control Board's changes to the District of Columbia

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Andrew Brimmer discusses his consulting work

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Andrew Brimmer shares his hopes and concerns for the black community

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Andrew Brimmer considers his legacy







Andrew Brimmer recalls his work in the Sudan
Andrew Brimmer details his appointment to the Federal Reserve Board by President Johnson
Once we were in the Sudan, we worked through the Ministry of Finance to set up the central banks. And we worked on the economics and finances side as well. And, but our mission cut across the traditional relation because the Bank of England normally would have been asked to help the Sudanese set up their central banking arrangement. But the Bank of England advisor had said you don't need a central bank (laughter). What you need is a currency board--a colonial arrangement. The Sudanese rejected that, and they wanted a central bank more like our Federal Reserve or like the Bank of England itself. And the U.S. was just reaching out. This is during the Eisenhower administration. And the U.S. was trying to make some headway in the Middle East or in North Africa and so on. So the U.S. Ambassador to Sudan suggested they ask the Federal Reserve and that's how we got there. But once we were there, among the Sudanese and others, we were the Americans. And so a variety of issues came to our desks, not because we were familiar with the, the issues, but because we were there--and one, and I mentioned this in my journal--$$(Videographer:) Pause. Jet. Okay.$$I was saying because we were Americans, we ended up with all kinds of issues being brought to our desk. And one that came to me, and I mentioned it in my journal at some length. Into my office, the secretary came in and said, and "There is a gentleman here to see you. He is from the Khartoum Zoo." I said, "Oh?" He said, "Yes." And he was the Commissioner, and he came in with his proper neo-colonial uniform on, with his high socks and his short trousers and his topee [helmet]. And he said, "I have a real problem." And I said, "Yes?" And he said, "We have an exchange program with the National Zoo in Washington [D.C.]". And he said, "And we had been assembling a collection to exchange. And I understand that the U.S. has an aid program in which the commodities--"--actually it was a wheat program--"and is shipped in. And, but I was wondering could we get the Air Force to cargo to lift our animals to Washington?" And I said, "Sir, I have no idea about this. This is news to me. I said that my hunch is that you'll have to go through a lot of quarantine (laughter). Those animals have to be in quarantine." He said, "What do you mean?" I said "Because live animals can't be brought into the U.S. back and forth." I said, "and this is a question that the, that the Agriculture Department would have to advise you." And he said, "Really?" (laughter) So, it, it was an interesting experience, interesting experience. The Sudanese did eventually--they adopted our reports and so on. That is how and why I was in the Sudan.$So Johnson decided to appoint me to the Federal Reserve. And, and that is a story about the Federal Reserve as well as about the, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve and about me. I'm Number 3. The real problem was that the Federal Reserve had raised the discount rate in early December of 1965. And this is during the Vietnam War. The inflation was building. The President was under a great deal of tension to raise taxes to finance the war, to stop inflation. But it was resisted. The Federal Reserve under Bill [William M.] Martin raised the discount rates that tightened money. Johnson hit the ceiling. He was outraged. And he ended up calling Bill Martin down to the ranch. Well, I learned about it on a Saturday. The, because Hobart Rowan of the 'Washington Post' told me ahead of time. He said, we've got the story and it's going to appear in Sunday's paper and about 10:30 he had, had a copy of the Post sent over and I saw it. What had happened was that the, somebody in the Treasury leaked the thing to Johnson and the White House leaks, leaked the story. Well, that set up real friction between Johnson and the Federal Reserve. Bill Martin wanted to appoint, wanted Johnson to appoint a businessman to replace Canby Balderston who was the Vice Chair, but whose term was expiring the end of January, 1966. Johnson decided to appointment me or rather let me put it, he was considering me. Evans and Novak wrote a story in the Washington Post. I remember it was February 22nd. That is an important date because that's Washington's birthday and the Government was closed. But Johnson ordered the Secretary of the Treasury--he read, Johnson read the [Rowland] Evans and [Robert] Novak story, and he asked the Secretary of the Treasury and the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors to interview me. I'd already been interviewed by Walter Heller on Johnson's behalf. So I went down to Treasury, and we talked and Joe Fowler, Secretary Treasurer and Acting Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors said, we, we're strongly supporting you. We told the President that he ought to go ahead with you. That was a Tuesday, on Thursday, I got a call in my office from Marvin Watson who was Johnson's appointment secretary [White House Chief of Staff] . He said, the boss wants to see you. I went over to the White House, and this is where the drama was. I expected to go to Marvin's office to be taken to the Oval Office. I got there. Marvin said, the boss went over to the Mansion. He wants us to come over. So I expected to see Johnson in his study in the White House. We went there, went up and up; the door opened. And there was this Secret Service guy standing there, and he said, "The President is not available." So Marvin said, "He expects us." The guy said, "He's not available!" So Marvin said, "You'd better go ask him." The agent came back and said, "Please, come." I walked into Johnson's bedroom. So I was interviewed by the President about going to the Federal Reserve in his bedroom. Marvin had told us we had 10 minutes. I stayed for 45 minutes. We talked about the Federal Reserve for about 5 to 7 minutes and the rest we talked about Johnson and, and how he was--he believed in actually integrating blacks into the government.