Amos Brown: 1950-2015


I suspect Amos Brown would be looking over his shoulder.

Brown, who died suddenly last week at the age of 64, has been lionized by friends and foes alike. Even Gov. Mike Pence has gotten into the act.

But then Pence was once a talkshow host himself. I'm sure his appreciation for Brown's abilities was born of experience and was genuine.

The fact, however, remains that as well-deserved as this late-breaking praise for Brown has been, it was also hard won. Although plenty of people paid attention to Brown (he made sure of that, making himself the city's most diversified media personality — in print, on radio and TV) he could also be an eye-rolling pain in the neck. My guess is that he considered this part of the deal.

How else could it be — being a Black journalist in Indianapolis, a city like so many others in America, where racial cultures run on separate tracks, with their own distinct versions of the arts and politics and, most especially, what's fair?

What may set Indianapolis apart, though, is the local emphasis on getting along. Being a team player, fitting in, seems more crucial here than in many other places. To get ahead in Indy, you mustn't want to change things, but improve them, oh so gradually.

This wasn't Amos Brown's way. In the first place, he identified himself with his audience, the city's African-American community. This, by definition, put him on the outside of wherever the real wheeling and dealing in the city took place. It couldn't help but make him seem like a self-promoting hothead to some people. It made him a hero to many others.

And so, if you paid attention to the Black community, Amos Brown was everywhere, "Just Tellin' It," as his column in the Indianapolis Recorder put it, or emceeing fundraisers, and speaking out at churches and other special events.

Otherwise, chances are you saw the adversarial Brown, a porcupine with needles bristling in the direction of your (most likely white) complacency.

I had a few run-ins with Amos over the years. My first taste was in 1990; I was producing a citywide book festival called Wordstruck. When I called Amos to try to get his interest, he brushed me off.

"Nobody reads," he told me.

This was perhaps as mainstream an attitude as I would ever hear from the man. Not that I can claim to have known him. I wonder how many people actually did, except, that is, through his body of work, which appears to have consumed him.

It's just now that I'm finding we were born 10 days apart, in December 1950. Both of us with Chicago roots, though from different parts that might as well have been different worlds. Still we grew up probably reading many of the same newspapers, watching the same local TV, listening to a lot of the same music. Somehow we both wound up in Indianapolis.

Amos Brown's cantankerous voice made that Indianapolis a richer, more complicated place. I should have known him better.


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