FORT WORTH -- Dr. Marion Brooks' care for the African American community reached far beyond its medical needs.The trail-blazing physician's clinic on Evans Avenue was not only the first and only option for residents in the black community; it also was the place where the community came for guidance on how to gain political and economic equality for African Americans."He had the status and intelligence to stand up to a white-dominated society," said local community activist Eddie Griffin. "Not everyone had those kinds of guts. Those kinds of guts would land you in jail, or shot or worse."As part of Black History Month, two rooms at the Lenora Rolla Heritage Center Museum are filled with medical equipment, congratulatory telegraphs, plaques and awards lauding the family's accomplishments and the indelible mark that Brooks left on Tarrant County.Much of the memorabilia that makes up the museum exhibit was stored in the Brooks family home and has not been seen outside the home until now, said Roy Brooks, his son and Tarrant County commissioner. His father died in 2003 at the age of 83.Characteristically, the elder Brooks liked to downplay the numerous awards he received and was even quoted in one Star-Telegram story describing his part in the civil rights struggle as "little bitty.""I think he would describe his legacy as his five children and the thousands of other lives he touched because he lived and served and loved other people," said Roy Brooks, his son and Tarrant County commissioner.Civil rights leaderStill, the reality is that in the 1960s Marion Brooks was a member of two groups -- the Black Panther Party for Self Defense and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, that were seen by some as radical but by the African-American community in a more positive light.The Black Panthers, founded in 1966, started out seeking to provide protection for people in African-American communities from police brutality, but became involved in several high-profile confrontations with police.SNCC, (pronounced Snik) was a student-driven organization with a stated goal of gaining political and economic equality for African Americans."My father was about supporting the community and whenever he saw an organization going in that direction he would support them with his time and his money," his son said. "He really didn't care about what other people thought."When Martin Luther King Jr. was leading a march on Washington for jobs and freedom on August 28, 1963, Brooks was leading a march to the governor's mansion in Austin on the same day. He was accompanied by his five children, Roy Brooks said.The general mood of Fort Worth in the 1960s was similar to other border and southern cities with anxiety and arguments about school desegregation and also residential desegregation, said Allan Saxe, political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.Brooks was not a militant himself, but believed that the broader community needed to be pushed a little to get in line with nationwide civil rights movement, Saxe said, which explains why he was sympathetic to the work being done by these two groups, even though it wasn't well known."Dr. Brooks played an invaluable role in the desegregation movement and reached into both the African-American and broader white communities which was not easily accomplished by others," Saxe said.His father also did not shy away from standing up to federal authorities when he thought his civil rights were being challenged."My father used to tell stories about being accosted by the FBI while he was on his way to his clinic parking lot," Roy Brooks said. "He was not polite when he asked them to leave."Healing workThe physician activism also spread through his medical practice.A lot of the love the community had for Brooks was because of the efforts he made to mainstream healthcare in the African American community. Brooks and his brother, Donald Brooks, opened a clinic on Evans Avenue that became the first and only health care option for many families, Griffin said."Dr. Jack ( the elder Brooks' nickname) did a lot of medical work for free," Griffin said. "A lot of the people that he worked on were never able to pay him, ever. People would pay him when they could and how much they could. I pray for that family every morning."Brooks delivered generations of babies in the African American community, Roy Brooks said, and people still come up to him thanking him for the healing work his father did. Taken together and counting spouses, the Brooks family sired eight physicians.The Sickle Cell Anemia Association of Texas was founded by Brooks and he was a driving force in the creation of Tarrant County Precinct Council as well, Roy Brooks said.The items in the museum are only an indication that his father passed this way and represent only a small part of his life, Roy Brooks said."He and my mom were married for 56 years and the power of the family came from that love," Roy Brooks said. "They were partners and worked as a team. None of the things that he accomplished could have ever been done without her."Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752Twitter: @mitchmitchel3
The museum, located at 1020 E. Humbolt St., will hold a reception beginning at 2 p.m. Feb. 17 so people can meet the Brooks family. The reception is free and the public is invited.