Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Aubrey Neblett Brown (6 May 1908–6 August 1998), Presbyterian minister and editor, was born in Hillsboro, Texas, the son of Aubrey Neblett Brown and Virginia Rose Sims Brown. He grew up in Andrews and Midland in western Texas and in 1925 graduated from high school in Mineral Wells, Texas. Brown received a B.A. in 1929 from Davidson College, where he edited the college newspaper, and a B.D. from Union Theological Seminary (later Union Presbyterian Seminary) in Richmond in 1932.

On 4 October 1932 Aubrey N. Brown Jr., as he was known throughout his life, married Sarah Dumond Hill, of Richmond, the daughter and granddaughter of prominent Presbyterian clergymen. They had three sons and five daughters. Brown began his ministerial career in 1932 in Ronceverte, West Virginia. Six years later he transferred to a congregation in Montgomery, West Virginia. During this time Brown became one of several departmental editors of the Presbyterian of the South and Presbyterian Standard, a privately published weekly religious journal founded in 1819 and printed in Richmond. Early in the 1940s the publication experienced financial difficulties and was seized by its printer for debt. A stock company raised some $11,600 to recover the magazine and invited Brown to move to Richmond as full-time editor and manager of the journal, which he did effective 1 November 1943. He changed the name to the Presbyterian Outlook in April 1944 and in September 1947 made his brother James S. Brown business manager of Outlook Publishers and its bookselling branch, the Outlook Book Service.

The magazine Brown took over was in financial straits, but it was also becoming the voice of change within the Presbyterian Church in the U.S., as an alternative to the conservative Presbyterian Journal. Brown's education had drawn him away from the biblical literalism and strict Calvinism of traditional southern Presbyterian teaching. He was influenced by such American writers and religious thinkers as Harry Emerson Fosdick and by his own long personal acquaintance with Ernest Trice Thompson, his immediate predecessor as editor. Brown opened the pages of the Presbyterian Outlook to advocates of biblical criticism, opponents of rigid Calvinism, and writers who believed that the church should engage in more social justice work. In his unambiguous editorials he lobbied for change within the church and supported those who wished to reunite the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. with its northern counterpart, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., and with other churches within the Reformed tradition. Although Brown always made his positions clear, he permitted a wide variety of opinions to appear in the magazine. To a reader who complained that he did not agree with everything that appeared in the Presbyterian Outlook, Brown once replied, "Neither do I."

Unlike many southern Presbyterians, Brown supported the ecumenical movement and participation in the Federal Council of Churches (later the National Council of Churches) and its international counterpart. From 1962 to 1973 he served on the North American council of the Alliance of the Reformed Churches throughout the World holding the Presbyterian System (after 1970 the World Alliance of Reformed Churches [Presbyterian and Congregational]) and attended the alliance's general council in Kenya in 1970. Brown advocated admitting women to positions in church governance and the ministry, and he was one of the few white Virginia clergymen who opposed against racial discrimination and segregation from the beginning of the civil rights movement. From 1957 to 1959 he was the first president of the Richmond chapter of the Virginia Council on Human Relations. Brown was president of the state council from 1963 to 1965 and for a time chaired the Virginia Advisory Committee of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.

As a forceful editor, a persistent advocate of change, and a clergyman who publicly participated in biracial organizations, Brown exercised a wide influence within the community of southern Presbyterians. Few of its leaders were as widely known. Awarded an honorary D.D. from Maryville College in 1961, Brown also received the first Torch of Liberty Award from the Virginia Chapter of B'nai B'rith in 1966. In 1979 he delivered the annual Sprunt lecture at Union Theological Seminary. Entitled "Credible Discipleship in a World of Affluence and Poverty," the talk strongly challenged the Presbyterian Church to improve its ministry to the poor.

Brown edited the Presbyterian Outlook until he retired at the end of 1978. Beginning in 1946 he began compiling the Going to College Handbook, an annual magazine, issued by Outlook Publishers. Containing feature articles about Presbyterian colleges in the United States and essays useful to students and parents, its circulation grew to several thousand copies, and its last issue in 1980 contained more than seventy pages. Brown served twice as interim pastor of All Souls Presbyterian Church in Richmond. After retirement he continued to write for the Presbyterian Outlook, led the Sunday discussions of the Ginter Park Presbyterian Peace Forum, took charge of the Wednesday night programs of the Ginter Park Presbyterian Church, and participated in interdenominational and other church-related conferences. Brown published The Church Publicity Book: Techniques for Communication (1986) and delivered a series of talks on aspects of his career that was published in 1997 as Aubrey Brown Remembers: The Purpose of an Independent Church Press, The Church's Record in Race Relations, The Struggle for Women's Status in the Church, The Movement Toward Christian Unity.

Sarah Hill Brown died on 3 July 1995. Aubrey Neblett Brown Jr. died at the Hermitage, a Richmond retirement home, on 6 August 1998. He donated his body to science.

Sources Consulted:
E. C. Scott, ed., Ministerial Directory of the Presbyterian Church, U.S., 1861–1941, rev. ed. (1950), 79; family records, including autobiographical memoranda, courtesy of daughter Katherine Brown Weisiger; Marriage Register, Richmond City, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Health, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; Aubrey N. Brown Jr. Papers, Virginia Museum of History and Culture, Richmond; Aubrey Brown Papers and several audio- and videotape interviews and recordings, Union Presbyterian Seminary, Richmond, Va.; Richmond Times-Dispatch, 5 Oct. 1932, 18 Jan. 1997, 11 Aug. 1998 (quotation); Janet Harbison, "Man of Right Much Courage," Presbyterian Life (15 July 1959): 6–7, 31–33; Presbyterian Outlook 175 (31 May 1993): 10, 16–20; Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South (1963–1973), 3:335, 490, 530–535, 542, 550–551; valedictory in Presbyterian Outlook 160 (18 Dec. 1978): 8; obituary in Richmond Times-Dispatch, 7 Aug. 1998; tributes in Presbyterian Outlook 180 (7 Sept. 1998): 5–10 (portraits), and (14 Sept. 1998): 8–15.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Brent Tarter.

How to cite this page:
Brent Tarter,"Aubrey Neblett Brown (1908–1998)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2001, rev. 2019 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Brown_Aubrey_Neblett, accessed [today's date]).

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