Andrew F. Brimmer, a Black economist, educator and son of a Louisiana sharecropper who became the first Black member of the powerful Federal Reserve Board and helped guide the local District of Columbia government through a financial crisis, died Oct. 7 in Washington, D.C. He was 86.
He passed after a long, undisclosed illness, his daughter, an Obama administration assistant secretary of State, confirmed Oct. 10.
Brimmer, who served on the board of trustees of Tuskegee University and had an announced devotion to ending Black poverty, was also the first chairman of the D.C. Control Board, a fiscal governing board created by Congress to address turmoil in the city’s finances.
“I do feel that the economic plight of blacks is a serious matter,” he told The New York Times in 1973. “So I bring the same economist’s tool kit to that subject as other economists bring to examine other national economic problems.”
He used his position on the Fed, the nation’s central bank which governs the economy through manipulation of interest rates, to push for easing the rates major banks pay for money, call for setting looser reins on consumer loans and reverse the economy’s inflationary trends.
After graduating from high school in his native Newellton, La., he moved to the Pacific Northwest where a sister lived and, after military service, enrolled in the University of Washington in Seattle where, under the G.I. Bill, he earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in economics.
He later studied at the Delhi School of Economics and the University of Bombay. He became a Federal Reserve staff member in the 1950s, specializing in international banking and finance, later helping to create a central bank in the Sudan. In 1965, he became part of a post-riot delegation to Los Angeles after rioting devastated the Watts neighborhood. He commissioned a study that found that economic conditions had declined drastically long before the rioting.
While at the Commerce Department as assistant secretary for economic affairs, he was named to the Federal Reserve in 1966 by President Lyndon Johnson. Brimmer left the Fed after eight years, and taught at the Harvard Business School.