The war in Sudan between two rival generals for control of the country is devastating in so many ways. Hundreds of civilians have been killed, thousands injured and more than 1 million people are now homeless. The fighting is even wreaking havoc on the country’s central bank.
In late April 2023, a video surfaced of a branch of the Central Bank of Sudan in Khartoum on fire. And on May 31, Sudan’s army bombed a central bank printing press to keep opposition forces from printing the money it needs to fund its fight.
What many people may not know is that, in 1956, three U.S. economists laid the groundwork for the Central Bank of Sudan. And Andrew Brimmer, the first African American to serve on the Board of Governors of the U.S. Federal Reserve System, was one of them.
Brimmer’s resume was replete with high-level appointments and other professional accomplishments. After his death in 2012, he was lauded as having demonstrated a deep concern for “the economic conditions of poor, powerless, uneducated black people.” That interest dated back to his own childhood in the Jim Crow South where he watched his father navigate a system stacked against Black people and his early work helping found the Central Bank of Sudan.
As an African American historian of Sudan, I have been drawn to the ways that Black Americans have participated in the development of modern Sudan. I’m particularly fascinated by the way Brimmer, a graduate of the University of Washington, where I teach, figures into this history.
My forthcoming book examines African American involvement in Sudan and their impact on this transnational relationship.
Brimmer was one of six children – three girls and three boys. His father alternated between manual jobs, from chopping cotton to shipping out grain to support the family, and his mother grew much of the food the family ate.
“So we were typically poor, but not dirt-poor,” Brimmer told interviewers for a Federal Reserve Board oral history project in 2007.
He was born in 1926 in Newellton, Louisiana, just five miles from the plantation where some of his ancestors had been enslaved. And he was educated in a segregated school system that had a shorter school year for Black children than white children and only went to the seventh grade. Brimmer had to leave town for additional education.
He was drafted into the Army near the end of World War II and was honorably discharged in 1946. Brimmer then earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in economics in 1950 and 1951 from the University of Washington and in 1957 earned a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard.