Marion Jackson “Jack” Brooks, physician and civil rights activist, son of Roy E. Brooks and Eula Mae (Jackson) Brooks, was born at Fort Worth, Texas, on February 15, 1920. Brooks’s father was a railroad mail clerk, and his secure federal position provided a financially stable life for his family. Marion Brooks attended Fort Worth public schools and graduated cum laude from the segregated I. M. Terrell High School in 1936. He continued his education at Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College of Texas (now Prairie View A&M University) where, while working in the library, he received his bachelor of science degree in 1940. Brooks then taught school in Rosenberg, near Houston, in Fort Bend County.
America’s entry into World War II dramatically affected Brooks’s life. He was drafted in 1942 and entered the United States Army as a private. Honorably discharged in 1946, he left the military as a first lieutenant. During his service, Brooks was stationed in the European Theater where he eventually served as commander of both a chemical company and an engineering company. Brooks married Marie Norris on December 25, 1945. His wife was a civic leader in her own right, and they were the parents of five children, including a physician and a county commissioner.
In fall 1947 Brooks, using his G.I. Bill benefits, entered Washington, D. C.’s Howard University School of Medicine, a historically-Black school founded in 1867. He pursued a general course of medical studies and ranked third in his class. He also worked part-time as a typist at the Veterans Administration to help support his growing family. Brooks was elected to the Kappa Pi Honorary Society in 1950 for exemplary scholarship in the study of medicine and served as class president for three of his four years in medical school. The newly-minted Dr. Brooks completed his internship at the Freedmen’s Hospital, the teaching hospital for Howard University in 1951–52. He was licensed to practice medicine and surgery in the District of Columbia in July 1952.
Brooks then returned to Fort Worth with his wife and children. As soon as he received his Texas license to practice medicine in November 1952, he opened a general medical practice at 417 E. 9th Street, in the heart of Fort Worth’s African American business district. Only a handful of African American physicians practiced in Fort Worth at any given time prior to the civil rights era. That same year, the African American population of Fort Worth was almost 40,000, according to U.S. census statistics, so Brooks carried a heavy practice load.
From the beginning, Marion Brooks’s philosophy was to provide medical services to anyone who needed them, regardless of their ability to pay. Although he could see and treat patients in his office, his options were limited if they needed hospitalization. Early in his career, the only two options Brooks had when his patients required hospital care were either the City-County Hospital (now John Peter Smith Hospital) or the basement “Negro Ward” of St. Joseph, the Catholic hospital. During his career, Brooks battled for staff status and admitting privileges for himself and all African American physicians at all hospitals in Fort Worth. By the mid-1960s he held that status at all of Fort Worth’s major hospitals.
In July 1958 Brooks moved his medical practice to 2200 Evans Avenue and opened the Brooks Clinic with brother Donald A. Brooks, who was also a physician, and dentist Clyde R. Broadus. Brooks practiced from this clinic for the next thirty-eight years until his retirement in 1996. As an African American physician, Brooks fully understood the difficulties in providing medical care for a largely poor and marginalized population. He believed in the innate equality of African Americans and asserted that they had proved it during their fight for democracy in World War II. These beliefs led Brooks to a life of civic activism in an effort to make that equality a fact of everyday life, and he was involved both locally and on a national level. As his practice thrived, Brooks still found time for civic engagement and civil rights work, both within and outside the accepted conventions of the time. He felt obligated to be a prominent voice for the Black community because he owed his living to them, and the fact that he was self-employed allowed him more freedom to say or do what others could not because they would lose their jobs. Fort Worth community activist Eddie Griffin noted in 2013 that Brooks “had the status and intelligence” to speak out in a White-dominated society.
Locally, Brooks was a co-founder of the Tarrant County Precinct Workers Council, established in 1953, which fought for elimination of the poll tax, encouraged Black voter participation and candidacy, and endorsed political candidates who were sympathetic to causes championed by African Americans. He also spoke to the Fort Worth School Board in 1954, along with representatives of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), advocating immediate implementation of integration in Fort Worth schools. This early civil rights effort in Fort Worth went unrecorded by the local press. Brooks also had a leadership role in several other events, including an action asking the Safeway grocery store at 2100 Evans Avenue to hire African American workers and a protest march targeting Leonard’s Department Store that had an impact on the store’s integration.
He served on the board of the Fort Worth Urban League, a bi-racial group that focused on improving the standard of living for African Americans in Fort Worth through improved housing, health, child care, and school attendance. Ultimately, his experience with that group led to one of Brooks’s biggest disappointments, as the organization was targeted as an anti-White Communist group in 1957 while he was serving as the league’s last president. The United Fund (now United Way) withdrew funding, and the organization was forced to close.
Brooks was recognized by locally-elected White officials as a leader in the African American community. He was one of the first two African Americans appointed to a board or commission in Fort Worth when he was named to the Fort Worth Park Advisory Board in May 1961; he served two terms. In 1962 Fort Worth police chief Cato Hightower named Brooks to a committee of African American leaders who served as liaisons between the police department and the African American community. Brooks’s outspoken nature was apparent when the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce planned a breakfast for President John F. Kennedy at the Hotel Texas on November 22, 1962, but sold all the tickets without inviting any African Americans. John Byrne, a General Services Administration administrator handling the trip details, attempted to rectify the mistake by calling Brooks only three days before the event to invite him and his wife. Brooks told Byrne that if only two Blacks were invited, there would be none in attendance. That resulted in a decision to provide fifty tickets for African Americans, and all were at the breakfast. Brooks also helped organize and spoke at a civil rights march in Austin held in conjunction with the March on Washington event held on August 28, 1963. Brooks, who took his entire family to the protest with him, wanted to give those who could not afford to travel to Washington, D.C., a venue to make their voices heard.
In November 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson invited Brooks to participate in the White House Conference on Health which brought together leaders in the field to identify and develop plans to address the health needs of the United States. Brooks received an Urban Service Award from the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1967. Politically, he was a liberal Democrat and partnered with Latinos and Caucasian liberals to advance his causes. He served on the executive committee of the Texas Council of Voters and the Democratic Coalition of Texas, both progressive Democratic organizations that strove to change Texans’ racial attitudes through political action. In addition, he was active with the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Brooks also belonged to the Black Panther party and sometimes treated wounded members “in the woods” away from the arm of the law.
Professionally, Brooks was the founding president of the Sickle Cell Anemia Association of Texas in 1971. He also belonged to the Tarrant County Medical Society, the American Medical Association, and the National Medical Association, an organization for African American physicians. He served on the board of the American Heart Association. Morningside Methodist Church was founded in the Brooks’ home, and he served on the church board of trustees. Brooks was also a member of the Prairie View Centennial Council, which produced a ten-year development plan for the university in 1970.
Later in life, Brooks was honored with a number of lifetime achievement awards. In 1994 he was named a Living Legend honoree in the field of medicine by the Junior Black Academy of Arts and Letters in Dallas. Fort Worth proclaimed “Dr. Marion ‘Jack’ Brooks Day” on September 29, 2002. Brooks died on March 3, 2003, and was buried at the Skyvue Memorial Gardens in Mansfield, Texas. Shortly thereafter, Tarrant County and the Tarrant County Public Health Department named its new main building the Dr. Marion J. Brooks Public Health Building in his memory.