The Community Gardener
A Portrait of Willie Brown
Willie Brown III, who lived next door to Ed Cooper for decades, now serves as the President of the Board of Directors for the Edward L. Cooper Community Garden and Education Center in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston.
Willie grew up in rural Florida in the 1940s. At age 14, he spent a summer working as a migrant farmer in upstate New York with his grandfather. He says the experience gave him an appreciation for where food comes from. Since growing up in a rural area, Willie still loves being in the garden. "I guess it's in me," he says.
Before Ed Cooper died, Willie would spend time talking to him out on his front porch. Willie was always impressed by Cooper's work and how he stayed so rooted in his community. This inspiration led Willie to become part of the Board of Directors on which he serves today.
Now almost 70 years old, Willie relishes the history of his neighborhood and home of 40 years. He often talks about the rich history of the area going back to the 1600s.
In addition to his work in the Cooper garden, Willie spends time tending to his own backyard garden, which he says is a project that has been in progress since he bought the house 40 years ago. "It was no Garden of Eden when we moved in."
After service in the U.S. Army brought Willie up to Massachusetts, he says he moved into Roxbury because couldn't stand staying in the South, where the Klan was still active and black men received little respect.
Zebra Grass is one of Willie's wife's favorite plants, and Willie doesn't mind it either. He plants more since autumn is prime planting season.
Now retired, and no longer "chasing the dollar," Willie says he can enjoy himself fully and be at peace when he's in the garden.
Other than the passing of Ed Cooper, not much has changed in this neighborhood since Willie moved in almost a half century ago. And he seems to like it that way.