Black History Month: Bob Brown on working with Martin Luther King and Mandela

Bob Brown, author of "You Can't Go Wrong Doing Right," gives a powerful interview about going from a poor boy in the segregated south to a civil rights activist and presidential consultant.
25:59 | 02/08/19

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Transcript for Black History Month: Bob Brown on working with Martin Luther King and Mandela
The day welcome to ABC. Live I'm Byron Pitts co anchor of Nightline and ABC news. And had a great honor today to interview a wonderful gentleman Robert. You can't go wrong door and right. How a child poverty rose to the White House and help change the world. It was Ali Hussein inning bragging if you can back it up in your life story backs up this title think. Some so your your bio says you're the CEO and founder. Of a public relations a global public relations firm High Point, North Carolina. Multimillion dollar business. But as as I think about it that may be one of the least interesting things about you because of all the remarkable things that you've done. I mean your your your liberal that's a people who call for your opinion your advice. Nelson Mandela. More news the keen. Robert Kennedy you took a moment for. Europe special assistant to. President Richard Nixon. Where is it the second. All that's remarkable in its own for you're a man. From High Point, North Carolina the shoeshine boy predict it. Right about Graham to tell about your pre. Well my grandmother raised me from a little safety. And it was it was a tough life because we were very poor and Hugh is a very religious woman who wins church every Sunday. But she taught me so are her faith in action because we will go to church. In this little boy she would give meaning. Vehicle Dan and she'd say put this money and soundness Coolidge. That's your right there here that's fair on the left that. As my grandfather and among them and that period in front that would nighters on an investment grant polymer month. Send futurists tell me put this in church and I was wonder why as mama give me just then of nuclear put in cured. Well I have no money to get candy. In the so I don't know she's gonna make their week maybe she'd made for club dollars in a week that she's given me. That kind of money to put in church. And she stated she tell me over and over again you give. Because when you give the lord will give back to you and such proportions that you can't even dream. The lord he's gonna give you directly to always key. Give you servers give you money whatever you give it. And and that's part of your your life yes there. Service and getting CO on the first black police officers in High Point, North Carolina. You left there you were an agent for the federal bureau of narcotics here in New York City that's sure it there weren't many men of color doing during the just a dangerous job it's. Photos of virgin whose job I was working here a word here now worked in Canada worked in. New Jersey there can Pennsylvania worked all over. Because became one of the key agents in the bureau looming Kia made the biggest cases. Testified in the biggest cases the bureau of ahead. Here in New York you your twenties. Those units from the urine is he has those moments when it's did you fully appreciate how dangerous that work was. Well when young life you know you're just gung hoe but. I love the work it was a very good. Put out Paramount after a few years that Cohen do other things of life. And that there were no doors open if a black folks. And who not only wouldn't know goes open I'll in New York. But didn't Brennan goes opened almost anywhere but did call in North Carolina. So where do I came home and I told my late wife asleep you know we're gonna move back to happen polar. Where it was still segregated I couldn't go get a drink a water. And those who was at a colored fountain the get a Longo enjoying living in years you don't know Rockwell radio she's love and it plays here it is nice. Office and the job done on Fifth Avenue. And I mean she was loving every minute so why she really go back. Well because I think she loved me the news she loved me and feast on it I was serious about going back to North Carolina where the food. Now your background was in law enforcement. And local law enforcement in the federal. Federal law enforcement but you decide to sort of a PR firm. Yes because every it does book but what I've you know it Daryn. In the village in Greenwich Village and a sailor gets released due cook get books angry very angry and sell us on his book effective public relations. Scott Cutler. There was no link who who is on a name that book. And I think you know this is something I've been warned it's bought the book and they got paid fitness and a dollop of book all the boastful they. And I really did vote that really wants that written again. Federated again. In my wife kept asking me. What is it about that book to this fascinates you so much he just keep read the same book over knoller Robert. Posted here because this is what I think we're doing life. Doing all black. PR agents there's no black PR for arms factory. And that's what my wife continued to remand me to sit there and don't Paxson is counted in this. In America so why are you telling you gonna do it's now been done before. And that's it well this is that kind of thing that our two of my life I think we can make a major contribution. And I can make a great live in two thirds. And you did vote so you're running your ear it's called DNC right be it C associates. Out of High Point, North Carolina. And money your biggest clients early on was war. That's right and they had a problem. Pittsburgh city and its yes it was called city and yes and when you sit and answer period we were living in New York. And so when I went back to nor come on over his visit. That's hit they have a message that said this is not going to hand this is gonna change America matchup problem. So one day I'm here in new York and this go by the bureau's office which is a block away from the ward peeled and and I decide to go I'm gonna go PNC's chairman her boy so went to the bill and Nancy Williams. Which deploys a chairman sultan. In the gas should flow I think he's on the 47 to grow up to 47. So it up there. And in this resident galloped at elevated. Islam Leahy was at a desk and she said forty you'll. Has hit hours heated chairman of the rule she says. He's away today he's not here as to or receive mr. Harrington vice president apart relations. Deliveries there. And she says he's here but he's busy but I who are any and see if he can see. So few minutes lady he comes back record total him. That. I have some ideas for the company that company was in deep power relations trouble. In I want to talk to about it at this point how green. I was torn. When they played for autism and how much experience to have as a PR man at zero. So are you the only insider earned his office he says okay you know me and I'll see you for fab ten minutes got no more Trenton. Two hour late I'm still in his office that we just did discuss and that cut future of the company what they'll be doing. In the end he's hit you know I'm gonna call call buying and coaches. Which was the largest PR firm in the world not in New York in the world. So recall ordered top casket Bob would. In. And he sent me orders he would he said we just hired him though CU because I think we need you. So I would over the years and when I got there he says hey look I'm on his senior cause that there are whatever it is you. He's do you found him is he said are busy. So is his work what do you hear what you there would be. So I'd totally port point made an analysis of this situation what I thought it needed to do. It'll need founded in history. So two and a half out live them still in his office. And he orders lunch counsels his meetings. Anyway we finished he says. I think. We gonna have a send these. He set out call you next week. Because even awards. They're corporate culture was they didn't believe in segregation notably a follow state laws in north terminal so that they tell him along with. Follower of south. Worst totally sick so you so you go to work for them this big fortune 500 company you know working for they would have biggest in the business it's in the world. And and and shortly there after you've become friends with. This young preacher by the name a Martin Luther King Jr. The tour. He. I met him in Atlanta. I was having lunch which stands Scott who is a close friend who who spend there and Atlanta daily world like newspaper. And revel whacked Hugh walker was in the restaurant black restaurant or Auburn avenue. And all of us who he says you need to meet what he is that they need a lot of help he worked for Doctor King. That's good friend so admit and he invited me to come up to their office two blocks of the street he said Doctor King it's an opposite day. In heaps surely need to meet you Bob Brown. So I went up there in that Doctor King had to do his conduct of people who don't people who talk. He said Bob we need all coming up we need run if we sit here. He said would be an obstetrician. In some places in the black community and it's that we need your help. And who knew the civil rights movement unity army. Well they needed to need to raise some money. And where you get the money get the runner from Foundation's major corporations that kind of money they need. And that's who I was where where what word AMP. So we'll have major cut what was your ever. A difficult tightrope for you because on the one hand you're being paid. By these major corporations he's white company century who may have had one agenda through but you're also. Advocating count slaying spin the civil rights movement Doctor King. That's good. I'm advocating. To thing. Why and to the corporations. That they needed to change they had changed it makes no difference what happened that America was going in another direction. If they didn't change that we're going to be left that we won't lose billions of dollars worth of business and that's what I was avocation and still not only that advocate that advocated ways in which they should make ditching. There is. And during our research about you group. Your friend Dr. Martin Luther King who. One that all time great orchards and his speeches he spoke in. In grand biblical terms. We didn't necessarily mention individuals by name very often that but there was one particular speech. On one particular day we're he mentions a friend let's take a listen to that. Brown who is here on our whole lot. And who. Is a public relations man representing a number of friends came and I call them in Jozy. Works AMP also unaided knowing you work for us to. How cool is that. I was there is there's really unbelievable. Put I didn't making a bone to it was I wasn't there is peace back foot into major companies. Everybody knew I work for AMP and will be lower than mega cut its but everybody also in the that I was involved in changing. The climate changing thing moves. Physically and every other way changing the way they give money they would give him money tool most of the white organizations all the way around. But I advocated for them to give money to. To civil rights groups. Two black colleges to all parents and entities that did never given money to. The sent these Americans. And they've butted goods they come in historical blunder by Nils so let's have some equity. You could've lived a rich lies with that having been the high line. Things you're engaged. What you transition in. Is one of his chief assistants the highest ranking black man. To that point in history in the White House what was it like working for Richard Nixon for whom we both know history has taken and unkind look. Well it was was incredible experience it was incredible experience because he gave me so much leverage. I mean I didn't have to call up in about it could kill them or call the Pentagon. Called a chief of staff oldest secretary. Both defense. Because he made sure that. I wasn't part of the cabinet meetings and you were Democrat this is a republic out of his Democrat if FirstMerit version you live how the Democrat they knew I was younger. I was greatest citizen to credit but I was first in America. Who is trying to make sure that we were changing thing that's what I'd done and it still writes. When in the beginning is your rights. There's so much ground went cover with you know women and on time we have a couple of stories when we talk about so when your dear friend doctor Keane. Is assassinated. He actually was supposed have been with you that David sad to see an extra day in Memphis. You'd that you speak eloquently you write eloquent in the book about how heart broken you were how harper in the nation once. And then you say you get this call from caress khaki who once you do of all people on earth wants you to go with her to retrieve his body by. Well. I was very close to miss it came and Doctor King. From tempt them. We would have meetings. Guess. Two or three of us in the privacy of their own. The little children room. And so they were very dear to me they were close dear friends. And I was able to. Get money flowing in India helped flowing from all kinds of ways through. The civil rights movement and to as fields C. And so we're in and then travel account you can child witness K. And when he was killed. I found out about it because I do has been and learn award to medium. And work out the cleaning Charlotte. They're the people running all ordered airport and nobody with say anything else that's who I thought it was some emergency. In the end until is black poorer ruling moved vascular alone. In I ask him what on earth is going it's everybody going crazy and simple. He looked at me he should do for you being he should they just kill Doctor King. In this I don't know procure our. Well I was devilishly. So Palmer house in my late wife Sally and through phone and journalists noise and a parent current. And she survive but where are you people here looking that the house looking for you. He's had his own kind of bedlam going on in town some people were burned down the town burned down vehement as him on my way. And and I was from a wave it then I turn your radio on in my car in a railroad car ahead. And actually cracked all the way. From Charlotte that point because there was so much of ballots in killings going on assault of America seventy miles a crime. Several mills of print and Democrats so much in my life. Needn't make another Tippett. You. You're in South Africa on business if a client. Who has business in south every take she would dig deep to get your advice and then you're at your hotel. And two members of the secret police knock on your door. This is at a time when black folk are disappearing in south African veteran. Come and that's her well. I was there on business. Had a relationship with ms. Cain admitted herder. Taken visit king ms. king of mrs. Mandela and Mandela. Met her I had no matter put his cane want to go there so. Have relationship and then. When name it these two Secret Service gas. Kane commit adored go to bill. And peeked out in the scooter where they sit away from president borders office. Studies show me some animation and peak on the scene opened the door sit think and accumulate and accumulate as doors don't stop. So opening the door and they said. Mr. Burrough of future we we hate about you put president board just hit us. And he wants to see you both W lead to cut this is the man with the best reputation he his for British missiles that killed his nickname was caught. And now isn't exactly a violent man that's for what we think and why does yelling at me. I was thinking that maybe since I had been in South Africa on several occasions and I was. That's a little different people. From the movement from any of popular movement and others put the team of lot of other people in the doctor who'd been dealt with miniature. And I'll probably be disclosed its plans for him to stop anything that I was Gorton kill me. So I decided he's gonna kill me is going to kill me some mayor pro growth treated me and talk to. So I went to the Statehouse in sort of check out there you know I had only big guns and everything around. And I got you here and that's the ol' Roy start praying. Then his guard won't go to moving Sid who are you. That's demanding that Robert Brown showed Lopez book is an Oreo lift up well mr. they're told that god would machine gun that openly gay. Today over negate and soon as they're making see this young right post and over and he says mr. brown as India he should come. Only take you up to pick books office. Pick border was and number two man in charts we took me to his office. And he greets me warmly. And he says mr. brown he said I hate to and a few days but do you know what president border what's it to you about. We do an unknown this was a number two man in the country. There's no I don't know had never met him I don't know and he said well I'm gonna take people around his office. And if you are let me stay in the beating. Then they'll be. But if he doesn't want me to stay I have to leave. And he said we would be eternally grateful to you if you would come back up here and debrief us as to what president Bordeaux. This was so strange to me just say at least so lowered down there and he had to do is bring the president important. India's present border pick boarded in. The spirit hit do you want me to say believing he should all know pick Hugo about the golf it's just a moment could remain in phone. So then we said there you go to sit down we sat down just learned was sitting here. And Heath are and who isn't me and talking about and they'll look. He says mr. brown understand you you worker would mr. Mandela family you have is shorter Romanians who. He set out portrait noted out all but dead man his freedom. But he wouldn't take it wouldn't take. And he was emotional about it. As he wouldn't take it because he's a proud south African guess who. These threats he was always gets people to be free and as did mr. Mandela would not come out its yield which certain conditions and Poulter put him. Two you have to understand it we went through the two hour and fifteen or twenty minutes with that conversation. You eventually went on Nelson Mandela and minorities youth the first American. To meet with Nelson Mandela imprisoned first persons outside his family have been imprisoned for 23 years it was a I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe it because wanna present borders assistance call me on that note Jerry get ready to leave and come back to America. And he says mr. Perot he's hit my name is new vendor certain. He said I work from prison worked. And president put has granted you permission to go inside a pulls more prison this sheet mr. Mandela. That's it you know I was so shocked that come out with speak. And I think it are you sure he said oh yes so. Went to the went theaters and it is that was the way it is wary of renters was was ultimately called mrs. Ms. Mandela. They're not told her what was happening. And she just green. Because here told meaning. Before to give children to America brought his children back to Simmons school for seven years yes you educated Nelson Mandela's children's children deserve an expense until he got on the deal. And so. She say it. And Israel delegates cream. She just start bringing him she wouldn't even speak to a few second yeah she was doing she said Barbara told you because she had petitioned him. There she had seen him then introduced towed to their ground Lloyd wouldn't let me nitrogen god would that mean that. We are running out of time Ronan touch couple places what looked humour about men and Alec act recklessly you talk all that. But. Also while you were in South Africa you were law breaker why you were there it was illegal. For black children to have books. So they allowed Judaism businessmen to bring clothes and shoes to South Africa that was fine. But in those huge cargo planes you what sneak books and I think at last count use mobile then got in somehow a million books. At least me. Well. I was I was fortunate that I had some had a couple of great people worker with me. Stedman Graham of worker with the Armstrong Williams. And we decided that. We can get the books in because. They could grant me permission to bring the books in. But we decided that we could put. In the bottom of every box we could put. Books. And on top of those books. We would put clothes and shoes. In every box and so we to have a sharp blow. Going to Kennedy Airport to meet south African Airways. And then they would they would put everything in a container they and put the contain on the plane. And it was should derail we could have put several years we ship. Tens of thousands of books and tonnes of polls and choose. My final question. As we close out our car our conversation for ABC. News lives. Powell. And while it. You were bullhorn in the Jim Crow sell. Dirt poor. I think your highest paying job as a child as a shoeshine boy were were white men with speak and kind say unkind things to you. As a child to break your spear. But you can get all this important thing Haynes you. How was that Powell was apostle. Well I had a grandmother who raised me. Whose fault. Was a slave in east and North Carolina missed knowing brown the snow leopard and she told me all the time if you sit on orchard it. Learn how to look. Or to learn how to do good thing. She said don't worry about whether or not you don't get money for our that you going to be group ordered. She's hinted greatest reward you can get it's because you're doing the right thing you do what god wants you to she should just keep on doing it. Because you can't go wrong door right she say you'll be doing the right thing she must have told Leno about everything he. He can't go wrong doing right. Robert. A great butchery. For all people. He can't go wrong doing right how it's out of poverty rose to the White House and help change the world. As ms. Tilly brown would say he meant. They may. Thank you very much thanks.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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