Robert Span Browne, an economist steeped in the radical politics of the 1960s who later founded three black self-help organizations and became an expert on African economic development, died of heart disease Aug. 5 at the Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw, N.Y. He was 79.
Mr. Browne was an early protester of the U.S. government's involvement in Vietnam, which he witnessed as an employee of the U.S. Agency for International Development stationed in Cambodia and Vietnam in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
From 1961 on, he spoke against the war before peace organizations, political groups, labor unions and churches, and he published letters and articles. He helped launch the 1966 national college teach-in on Vietnam. He ran for the U.S. Senate from New Jersey as an independent in 1966 on an anti-Vietnam platform that was especially opposed to African Americans going to combat against other people of color. He withdrew six weeks before the election, disappointed that his candidacy did not lead the state to a mammoth teach-in about the war.
By the late 1960s, Mr. Browne shifted his focus to the economic development of African Americans. He participated in the National Conference on Black Power in New Jersey in 1967, where a resolution called for discussion of partitioning the United States into two sovereign entities, one white, one black. He explained the controversial issue in a series of articles for national magazines and thus became associated with the radical separatist ideology.
Mr. Browne taught international affairs at a number of black colleges, and from 1964 to 1972 was an instructor and assistant professor of economics at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, while also serving as an adjunct professor of economics at Rutgers University. At Rutgers, he developed a course on the economics of the ghetto.
He founded three national black self-help organizations: the Black Economic Research Center, in 1969, a center of applied research that garnered the services of black economists for black economic development projects and published a journal, "The Review of Black Political Economy"; the Emergency Land Fund, in 1971, dedicated to reversing the decline in black land ownership in the South; and the still-operating Twenty-First Century Foundation, in 1971, an endowed public foundation based in New York that advances strategic black philanthropy.
Appointed as the first executive director to the African Development Bank, based in Ivory Coast, in 1980, Mr. Browne was also a senior research fellow of African studies at Howard University in the mid-1980s and a Ford Foundation research fellow there in 1992. He also was staff director of the subcommittee on international finance of the House Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs from 1986 to 1991, where he worked on issues related to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and Third World debt.
He lived in Washington from the mid-1980s until earlier this year, when he moved to Teaneck, N.J.
Mr. Browne was born in Chicago and studied economics at the University of Illinois in 1944. In 1947, he received a master's in business administration from the University of Chicago. He continued his studies at the London School of Economics and later completed all course work toward his doctorate at the City University of New York.
Mr. Browne started his career teaching at Dillard University in New Orleans in 1947 and was industrial field secretary for the Chicago Urban League from 1950 to 1952. After traveling the world on his own, he joined the U.S. Agency for International Development in Cambodia from 1955 to 1958, and in Vietnam from 1958 to 1961.
After semi-retirement in 1993, Mr. Browne became an economic consultant for Washington-based organizations, including Africare, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Institute for Policy Studies. He also served as Jesse Jackson's adviser on economic policy during his 1984 campaign for the presidency and made a presentation on U.S.-Africa policy at the economic summit in Little Rock shortly after the 1992 presidential election.
Survivors include his wife, Huoi Nguyen of Teaneck; four children; a sister; and a grandson.