Joseph Vaughn Brown was a noted African-American minister who served the community of South Dallas. Brown was born in Palestine about 1925. He was the son of Walter Brown and Lucenda Erving. Not much is known about Joseph Vaughn Brown’s origins. Reportedly, during part of his childhood in Palestine he lived with a white family. Brown later claimed that his destiny was preordained and that he was called to be a minister by the age of eight. In 1943 he graduated with honors from Massey Lake High School and then moved to Dallas. He attended Texas Southern University Law School, then a theological seminary in Philadelphia.
Around 1950 Joseph Vaughn Brown changed the spelling of his middle name and used his first name initial only to become known as the Rev. J. Von Brown or Father Brown. He claimed to be a prophet and became the leader of a group known as the American Spiritualist Association. This and other groups spearheaded by Reverend Brown, including the Texas Christian Episcopal Association, Lighted Church of Prayer, Way of the Cross Church, and his business enterprise, Joseph Printing Company, no longer exist. Brown, however, had numerous run-ins with the law and was well-known in jails and courtrooms where he often appeared in black clerical robes and carried a staff as a symbol of his alleged divinity. He often chose to represent himself without an attorney. The charges were numerous and included assault, possession of pornography, mail fraud, contempt of court, and other offenses.
Despite Brown’s troubles with the law, he was also known for his accomplishments in the community. For instance, in 1955 he was involved with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and participated in the picketing of the Texas State Fair in Dallas. The State Fair allowed African Americans only one day to partake in its full offerings. This day, called “Negro Achievement Day,” was considered an insult by many African Americans. Brown joined Juanita Craft and the NAACP Youth Council to march through the procession of the customary parade down Oakland Avenue to the Fair Park.
Father Brown’s messages were heard by thousands over the air waves. To many the flamboyant reverend’s methods were unconventional. At times he delivered his sermons from the satiny, cushioned space of a coffin. He peddled magical prayer oils, icons, hair tonics, and the laying on of hands to all followers who believed in salvation. Brown also gave away Cadillacs and bailed people out of jail. He was convicted of mail fraud in 1948 and given a three-year prison sentence.
By the late 1950s and early 1960s, his financial status declined, and he was in and out of court fighting to retain his church and his personal property from foreclosure. His confrontations with police officers when they attempted to evict him and confiscate his property led to two felony convictions for assault and carrying a weapon. Both convictions were overturned. On August 22, 1965, he was arrested for failing to vacate his church and for pointing a rifle at two federal marshals. By this time he had been accused of owing a large amount of income tax as well. Later that day, Brown suffered a stroke in the Dallas County jail and died en route to Parkland Hospital.