I sincerely admire and respect Tyrone Brooks; and I wish I could be more like him. He has made a life time of sacrifices for his people; he has been beat-up and locked-up, and he continues to get up and keep coming back for more – for his people. He is dedicated to the people’s movement, to the cause for freedom for all of Gods people. Tyrone has been working for his people just about all of his life. When I say “his people,” without a doubt I mean oppressed people – mostly Black people. He has worked at the grass roots level, in the small towns all across Georgia and beyond. You don’t do this kind of work without making history. So, let me see where we start with this story.
Tyrone L. Brooks Sr. was born in Washington, GA on October 10, 1945. Despite what was going on in this rural neighborhood, Tyrone and his family prevailed against incredible circumstances. His parents were his role models. His mother Ruby Cody Brooks fought injustice on the front lines as an NAACP activist, and his grandmother Ada Myrick was an active member of the National Council of Negro Women. His father, Moses Brooks, Jr. helped desegregate the railroad industry as a member of the A. Phillip Randolph Sleeping Car Porters Union.
The public service career of Brooks began when he was 15 years old and he heard the calling from the civil rights movement. He became a volunteer with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), perhaps drawn to the charisma and the message from some of the greatest civil rights leaders this world has seen. He became a full-time staffer of the organization in 1967; and under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, Rev. Hosea Williams, and Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, Brooks served in many positions, nationally and locally.
Because of his activism, he was encouraged to run for the Georgia House of Representatives by Rev. Joe Boone and Rev. Ralph David Abernathy. He was elected in 1980, serving the people of District #55, where he racked up an excellent and impressive record. Participating in the fight against injustices, he has been arrested 69 times. He led the campaign against apartheid in South Africa by championing legislation to divest all public funds controlled by the state of Georgia. He sponsored legislation calling for the release of Nelson Mandela. Along with Dr. Ralph David Abernathy, Dick Gregory, Walter Fauntroy, and many others, Brooks was arrested at the South African Embassy in Washington, D. C. on Thanksgiving Day, November 1976, and jailed for protesting the massacre in Soweto while calling for the end to the apartheid government. This was the first protest in America of its kind – and idea coming from Dick Gregory.
Brooks led a successful movement to reactivate the town of Keysville, GA in spite of the many threats against his life. Universal Humanities is a 501(c)(3) which grew out of an effort in the late 1980’s to re-establish the city of Keysville, a small, poor city in Burke County where African Americans are the majority. When it became apparent that African Americans were going to be the majority, the power leaders of the city disbanded. Tyrone led the successful efforts to reestablish Keysville as a functioning city government by the majority of its citizens. While in Keysville, he saw the poverty that existed as a result of the functional illiteracy of its citizens of color. Tyrone helped found Universal Humanities to advocate for literacy programs to lift people of color from corrosive effects of poverty through education. Tyrone funded the efforts of Universal Humanities out of his own pocket.
Representative Brook’s work changed the face of the judiciary. In 1988, he initiated a federal class action lawsuit (Brooks vs. Georgia) against the State of Georgia to reform and restructure Georgia’s Judicial Branch to create a more diverse judiciary. Brooks also introduced legislation to force the State to appoint more African-American judges and prosecutors and reform the Judicial Qualifications Committee and the Judicial Nominating Committee. Today, Georgia has one of the most racially diverse judiciary of any state in the nation. While in office, he introduced legislation to erect a statue of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the State Capitol grounds, helped establish the Positive Employment and Community Help (PEACH) Program, and introduced House Bill 16, which changed the Georgia State flag. Brooks has received four SCLC Presidential Awards, from Rev. Abernathy, Rev. Lowery, and the current president of SCLC, Senator Charles Steele, Jr. -who bestowed two of these prestigious awards, the latest of which was in 2018.
After thirty-five years of services in the Georgia House, Brooks was attacked by the system and accused of violating the U.S. Tax Codes. Former Governor Roy Barnes, who defended Brooks, said, “Tyrone did not receive a salary for his efforts, but he was given expense stipends that he used for expenses of living so he could continue the work. This is the activity that the government claims were criminal.” I say that if Tyrone had used an able accountant and maintain accounting records, there would have been no case. At the conclusion of Brooks’ week-long court hearing in November (2015), that turned out to be a civil rights reunion among friends who came to support him, Ambassador Andy Young suggested that this experience represented another revolution. Brooks answered, saying, “I can see this as a blessing in disguise, because the good Lord never makes a mistake.”
Brooks served six months at the Atlanta Camp in the Thomasville community. When his sentence was complete he returned to his Civil Rights work in Atlanta with a stronger commitment to work for justice. And for several months, he gave lectures about his civil rights works to students in the Black Studies Program at Georgia State University under the direction of Dr. Maurice Hobson.
Brooks recommitted himself to solving the murders at the Moore’s Ford Bridge in Monroe, GA, which was one of the projects that had been assigned to him by Dr. Martin Luther King immediately prior to his death. For more information about the Moore’s Ford Bridge lynchings, please visit the website at www.mooresfordmovement365.com.
Brooks is a lifetime active veteran of SCLC; he serves as the Chair of the Moore’s Ford Movement, and he is the President Emeritus of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials (GABEO). He continues to lecture to a generation of college and law students throughout the State of Georgia and other parts of the world on the trials and tribulations, challenges and confrontations, oppositions and abuse that he sustained while involved in the civil rights movements.
Tyrone Brooks’ story is that of a hero and should be reflected in Georgia’s history books. The problem here is we must get this man’s history right. This short piece, published here in the Atlanta Business Journal, is just touching the surface of how he influenced history, made history, and continues with this challenge of correcting history. This makes him a man to be treasured and “lifted up” in Atlanta’s History books. We use the term “Game Changer” rather often in today’s conversation. But, it matters how big the game is. Tyrone took on the big gamers and changed the game. He still will not rest until me makes change.