Frederick L. Brown was born in Chicago, Illinois. He received a B.A., cum laude, from Harvard College in 1954. After serving in the United States Army for ten years, he entered Harvard Law School, where he received his LL.B. in 1967. From 1967 to 1969 he served as chief law clerk to the justices of the Superior Court. Justice Brown then engaged in private practice in Boston, specializing in Federal criminal, constitutional, and civil rights matters. After serving as regional counsel for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, he joined the faculty of Northeastern University School of Law in 1973, where he taught courses in Federal jurisdiction, corporations, securities law, and constitutional and civil rights litigation.
In 1976, Governor Michael Dukakis appointed him to the Appeals Court, making him the Commonwealth's first African-American appellate judge. After reaching the mandatory retirement age in 2003, Justice Brown continued to serve as a recall justice until August 11, 2015.
Throughout his career Justice Brown has been involved in many educational and philanthropic activities, including service as a member of the Board of Trustees of Northeastern University since 1977 and as a trustee of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute since 1995. He was affiliated with the Lena Park Community Development Corporation for many years as a director, Housing Division chairman, and chairman of the board. Justice Brown was an Alvin Brown Fellow at the Aspen Institute in 1977 and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from New England School of Law in 1989.