Civil rights activist, politician
Even as a young child, Tyrone Brooks was strongly influenced by his family's active interest in the civil rights movement and African-American culture. When asked by his grandmother what he wanted for Christmas, he was more likely to choose a subscription to a black journal like Ebony or Jet than a toy. By the age of 15 he had begun to work as a volunteer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), starting a lifelong career of civil rights work and service to the African-American community.
During Brooks' 20 years (full time including volunteer) with SCLC and his 27 years as a Georgia state representative, he has continued to work for justice and equality for all people, fighting against unfair practices and introducing dozens of bills to ensure civil rights and eliminate racism and prejudice. Though he has been honored with public recognition, awards, and an honorary law degree from the John Marshall School of Law, Brooks has remained modest about his accomplishments. "I have never done anything alone," he said in an interview with Contemporary Black Biography (CBB), "I have been blessed and honored and to be a part of a great civil rights movement."
Took Interest in Racial Pride and World Events
Tyrone Brooks was born on October 10, 1945, in the small Georgia town of Warrenton, one of five children of Mose Brooks and Ruby Cody Brooks. Mose Brooks worked for the railroad, first in Georgia and later in Pennsylvania. Ruby Brooks worked as a sales clerk at Tannenbaum's Department Store, one of only two Warrenton stores that employed African Americans. Along with her sales job and caring for her own family, she also worked as a housekeeper.
From his family, young Tyrone learned to take an interest in the events of the world and to take pride in his black identity. His mother was a member of the NAACP and active in her church, and his father belonged to the A. Philip Randolph Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which in 1935 had become the first predominantly black labor union admitted to the American Federation of Labor. Brooks' grandmother, Ada Myrick Cody Ward, was also active and involved in her community, subscribing to several nationally known black newspapers, including the Atlanta Daily World, the Pittsburgh Courier, and Muhammad Speaks, a Black Muslim paper published in New York; and magazines (Jet and Ebony), many books and a trove of African-American literature. Reading this literature as a boy in his grandmother's home introduced Brooks to the issues and current events that were important to black people all over the country and the world. His grandmother also introduced him to the world in a more direct way, taking him with her on many trips to visit relatives in Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, and many other places, as well as to church on Wednesdays and Sundays.
Going to school in Warrenton, Brooks developed a love of reading that would continue throughout his life. He enjoyed competition, both in classroom debates and in football, baseball and track. However, during the 1950s and 60s, many young African-American students became participants in a struggle that was much more serious than the team sports most children played. Young people began to take a leadership role in protests and demonstrations against racial discrimination, and Tyrone Brooks became one of these young activists.
Joined Civil Rights Movement as a Teen
In 1957, some civil rights leaders, including Reverends Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth, C. K. Steele, Joseph E. Lowery and others, formed a nonviolent action organization called the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). They became the mentors to many of the young people in the movement and he challenged them to form a youth chapter of SCLC. Brooks and others responded to the challenge, and, at the age of 15, Tyrone Brooks joined SCLC as a volunteer. Brooks was drawn to SCLC because of its commitment to action, and his first arrest for civil rights work came soon after he joined the group. He was one of 15 students who were taken into custody while picketing the Georgia Board of Education.
Some white government officials had responded to student activism by suspending student civil rights workers from the public school system. Concerned that this could happen to her son, Ruby Brooks began to look for an alternative. She found it in the Boggs Academy in the nearby town of Keysville. Boggs was a coeducational African-American boarding school which had been founded in 1906 to provide college preparatory education for young black students. Hosea Williams helped Brooks obtain a scholarship to Boggs, which he attended until his graduation in 1963.
Throughout his childhood, Brooks had taken odd jobs, working on construction jobs and picking cotton and caring for the animals on his uncle's farm to contribute to the family finances. After he graduated from high school, he moved with his father to Washington, D.C., where he took classes at Howard University. Relatives in New York City encouraged Brooks to come north, both because they could help him get a good job, and because they feared for his safety as a civil rights activist in the segregated South. However, his friends and mentors at SCLC did not believe that Brooks would be happy in New York. In 1967, Hosea Williams offered him a paid position as a field staff worker, and Brooks went to work full-time for SCLC, organizing voter registration drives and picket lines in support of civil rights. While his activism became a full-time job, Brooks continued his education. He found time over the years to attended Atlanta University and the John F. Kennedy School of Government, and in 2000 he received an Honorary Doctorate of Jurisprudence from the John Marshall School of Law.
For the next 12 years, Brooks worked both nationally and locally for SCLC in many different positions. From field staff worker, he was promoted to communication director, field director, and finally to special assistant to president Rev. Ralph David Abernathy. In 1979, a philosophical split occurred within the organization's leadership, and Brooks left SCLC. Once again, he considered going north to take a job with family members in New York, and once again his associates talked him out of it.
At a Glance …
Born on October 10, 1945, in Warrenton, Georgia; married Mary Dunbar, 1994; children: Naheede, Tyrone Junior, Matthew. Education: Attended Howard University, Atlanta University, and the John F. Kennedy School of Government, 2000.
Career: Southern Christian Leadership Conference, field staff worker, communication director, field director, special assistant to Reverend Ralph Abernathy, 1967–79; Georgia House of Representatives; representative, 1980–.
Selected memberships: NAACP; Rainbow/PUSH Coalition; Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, president; Georgia Legislative Black Caucus; Coalition for a People's Agenda.
Selected awards: A. Phillip Randolph Labor Institute, Best Legislator; Georgia Association of Social Welfare, Best Legislator, American Civil Liberties Union, Civil Liberties Award; Atlanta City Council, Public Servant Award; Georgia Coalition of Black Women, 50 Most Influential Men in Georgia; John Marshall School of Law, Honorary Doctorate of Jurisprudence, 2000.
Addresses: Office—511 Legislative Office Building, State Capitol, Atlanta, Georgia 30334.
Elected to State Legislature
Many of Brooks' friends and SCLC associates, including Abernathy, Rev. Joe Boone, Rev. Jasper Williams, Mr. J. Lowell Ware, Ms. Johndelle Johnson, Rev. Sandra Robertson, began to encourage him to run for the Georgia House of Representatives. He agreed and was elected as a representative to the Georgia state legislature in 1980, a position he has continued to hold. During his almost three decades of service, Brooks has continued his work as a fighter for civil rights, freedom, and justice. He has led successful fights on a variety of issues, such as reducing taxes for the poor and elderly, re-opening police investigation into past lynchings, repealing old segregation laws, and passed legislation that benefits African-American law enforcement officers currently employed and certified. The law allows law enforcement officers the opportunity to buy back service prior to 1976, which was denied to them because of race. The Peace Officers' Annuity and Benefit Retirement Fund was segregated and reserved for whites only, from 1951 to 1976.
In 1976, Brooks and others had been arrested while demonstrating in front of the White House and South African embassy to protest that country's racist system of segregation called apartheid. As a legislator during the early 1980s, Brooks was in the forefront of the movement to stop the investment of Georgia state funds in South Africa and to support the release of black South African leader Nelson Mandela from prison. During the mid-1980s, Brooks lent his support to a successful campaign to revitalize the municipal government of the African-American town of Keysville, Georgia.
One of the most important aspects of civil rights work has been increasing the access of African Americans to the voting process. Brooks and other progressive legislators have worked for decades to increase African-American votes by removing unfair voting restrictions and changing biased ways of assigning voting districts. By the early 2000s, these changes had made Georgia the state with the most black representatives in its state government, and the largest number of African Americans in its national Congressional delegation. In the late 1980s, Brooks led a legislative campaign to change the way that judges were appointed in the state of Georgia to permit more people of color to attain the position of judge or prosecutor. After a more equitable system of appointments was put in place, Georgia became the nation's leader in the number of African-American judges.
In January 2001, a long battle ended when the Georgia state legislature voted to change the state flag. Beginning in 1955, the Georgia state flag had featured the St. Andrews diagonal cross featured on the flag of the confederacy during the Civil War. The confederate flag, because of its connection to slavery and to modern white supremacists, is a deeply offensive symbol to most African Americans, and Representative Tyrone Brooks had worked for almost 20 years to remove it from Georgia's flag. He helped design the new flag, creating a compromise with those who insisted that the confederate battle cross represented not racism, but Georgia history. The 2001 resolution reduced the confederate flag to one of four historical flags represented as small symbols at the bottom of the larger flag, a blue banner with a gold state seal. In March of 2004, the voters of Georgia approved the new flag without the Confederate Battle emblem in a public referendum by 80 percent voting yes. The accepted design was that which was proposed by Brooks and his colleagues in GABEO, GLBC, and the Coalition for the Peoples' Agenda to change the flag.
These are just a few examples of Brooks' success from his lifelong dedication toward political and social justice in America. Among his many political achievements, Brooks takes special pride in his part in convincing President George W. Bush to sign the Voting Rights Act in 2006, renewing the 1965 anti-discrimination law for another twenty-five years. Like much of Representative Brooks' work, the renewed Voting Rights Act is an offering for future generations, a legacy of commitment to racial equality in the United States.
Atlanta Inquirer, February 25, 2006, p. 13; March 4, 2006, p. 8; March 11, 2006, p. 7.
Crisis, May-June 2005, p. 6.
Jet, April 21, 1986, p. 29; February 19, 2001, p. 26; April 25, 2005, p. 42.
Tennessee Tribune, April 6, 2006, p. B6.
Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, www.gabeo.org/ (January 11, 2007).
"Tyrone Brooks," American Association for Affirmative Action, www.affirmativeaction.org/awards-brooks.jsp (January 11, 2007).
"Tyrone Brooks," The History Makers, www.thehis-torymakers.com/biography/biography.asp?bioin-dex=483&category=politicalMakers&name=Tyrone+Brooks (January 11, 2007).
Information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Tyrone Brooks on January 11, 2007.
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